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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Ken Davidoff: My 2013 Hall of Fame ballot

Last year’s winner of the Primer-approved “Ballot of the Year” is looking to Piazza-lessingly win again!

Mike Piazza . If you watched Piazza play, you were captivated by him. Did anyone else hit those heat-seeking missiles like he did? You felt like all of his homers flew about a foot over the shortstop’s glove and then soared over the wall, breaking a car window in the process.

He hit 427 home runs, with 396 of those as a catcher. More than any other catcher in baseball history.

But again: The goal here isn’t to get caught up in images, or to hone in on any one number. It’s to look at the whole picture.

If Piazza is on next year’s ballot _ I assume he’ll get the five percent of the votes necessary to carry him over _ then I absolutely would consider voting for him. He’s a very worthy candidate. On this clogged ballot, though, I don’t believe he’s one of the 10 best. Not when you look at the historical value measures like WAR and JAWS.

What I did was, I looked at every candidate on this ballot and ranked him according to both WARs, Baseball-Reference’s WAR7 (which takes a candidate’s best seven seasons by WAR, to consider a player’s peak) and Jaffe’s JAWS. I rewarded a player one point for finishing first in a column, two points for second, etc. _ and then ranked them by lowest score to highest. Bonds, for instance, ranked first because he had just four points; atop all four categories, he received one point for each.

Using this process, Piazza placed 14th on my list of candidates.

Yes, I place a huge emphasis on these statistics. Because these statistics have no emotions. They have no horse in the race. They just try to determine value. And I think the best way to determine a Hall of Fame ballot is without emotions. That’s why Piazza is a No . It has nothing to do with suspicions that he used illegal PEDs.

Ballot: Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Jeff Bagwell, Edgar Martinez, Kenny Lofton (!), Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, Alan Trammell, Larry Walker, Craig Biggio

Repoz Posted: December 19, 2012 at 12:45 PM | 126 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   101. bobm Posted: December 20, 2012 at 08:01 PM (#4329711)
I don't think you need to take the vote away from the BBWAA. A few simple reforms would solve the problem. ...
2. Minimum elect target. It would work this way: Anyone over 75% is in. If there are not enough 75% candidates to meet the minimum, then the top candidates are inducted to meet that minimum.

The last time BBWAA elected no one was 1996 (Niekro 68%), and prior to that 1971 (Berra 67%). This is really not a problem, except for the merchants and innkeepers and restaurateurs of Cooperstown NY.
   102. Walt Davis Posted: December 21, 2012 at 01:07 AM (#4329885)
You shouldn't go by games played, you should go by which positions they had the most value at.


If a guy played substantially at multiple positions you ... treat him like a guy who played substantially at multiple positions, not like a guy who played only one.

It's not hard.

Or at least it's no harder than asking yourself the question of where this guy ranks on the SS list:

6116 PA, 124 OPS+, 42 WAR

versus these guys:

9038 PA, 109 OPS+, 42 WAR
6621 PA, 113 OPS+, 48 WAR
5205 PA, 138 OPS+, 52 WAR
7024 PA, 120 OPS+, 59 WAR
5945 PA, 116 OPS+, 43 WAR
9625 PA, 89 OPS+, 49 WAR
11230 PA, 82 OPS+, 52 WAR
9470 PA, 99 OPS+, 63 WAR

The first guy is Nomar (treating his non-SS time as SS because I'm being lazy). The rest are Tejada, Yount as a SS, Banks as a SS, Boudreau, Fregosi as a SS, Campy, Aparicio and Reese.

If you can figure out where Nomar belongs on the all-time list of SS -- which requires you to weight peak and career in some fashion and rank him vs. Tejada, Bouedreau, Campy, Aparicio and Reese -- then you can rank Yount, Banks and Fregosi on the all-time SS list.

That Banks then went on to be a mediocre 1B after his injury while Yount was able to become a very good CF is certainly a good argument for Yount being above Banks on an all-time overall ranking but it has absolutely nothing to do with where they belong on a SS list. Due to injury (and some fear of injury in Yount's case) neither man could play SS anymore. That counts against them when being compared to other SS who were able to stay at the position.

And Joe, how can you on the one hand argue that peak shouldn't be so important but then claim that guys like Molitor, Edgar or Allen, with fewer than 800 games played at 3B, belong anywhere near the top of a 3B list.

Again, no offense to (crap, which Jaffe is this?), but the notion that Scott Rolen (67 WAR, 1994 career starts at 3B) is behind Molitor and Edgar on an all-time 3B list is just silly. It makes no sense. It doesn't pass the sniff test. It's an EPIC FAIL.

Heck, Rolen's WAR7 is even a bit ahead of Edgar and just behind Molitor's. So he has an equal peak (let's pretend that's all 3B) and then added a mere 1200-1400 more starts of non-peak 3B compared to 0 starts of non-peak 3B.

Taking a reasonably generous definition of Molitor as 3B (1982-89) was "just" 33 WAR. We call Edgar a 3B through 1994 and he's got 21 WAR.

1982-1989, at least 50% of games at 3B:

Boggs (ages 24-31) 59 WAR
Schmidt (32-39) 38 WAR
Brett (29-36) 33 WAR
Molitor (25-32) 32 WAR
Wallach (24-31) 29 WAR

Molitor was only something like the 3rd to 5th best 3B during his time at 3B but he's the #8 3B of all-time? Granted, bad luck to overlap with Boggs, Schmidt and Brett but that's late in the last two careers and he's not within light years of Boggs.

Edgar is #5 during his 87 to 94 run, behind Boggs, Bonilla (where's he on the all-time 3B list?), Matt Williams, Terry Pendleton and just ahead of Ventura and Seitzer. I think we can say this was not a promising start to his career as a HoF 3B. :-)

Now, if you want to do some collapsing of positions (merging 2B and 3B, merging LF and RF, merging 1B and DH) I'm not going to strenuously object. In fact I probably encourage such things since those positional switches are quite common and largely meaningless from a defensive perspective. But I strongly object to taking guys who played SS and then moved to other positions as if they only played SS and treating a 3B who moved to 1B/LF/RF/DH as if he played his entire career at 3B and treating Joe Torre and Gene Tenace as if they caught their entire careers. To do so GROSSLY under-rates the players who were able to stay at those defensively demanding positions for 1800+ games.

Rank Yount, Banks and Fregosi (and Nomar and Boudreau) where you think they belong on a "peak SS" list. But when it comes to ranking them on your career SS list, well, sorry, Yount, Banks and Fregosi added no more to their SS careers than Nomar or Boudreau did and so you place them wherever they belong. Then when you combine your peak and career SS list into an overall list, you use the same method on those 5 guys.

Look, the worst-case scenario is you add a disclaimer saying "The reason Stan Musial appears so low on the positional lists is because he split his time among 1B/LF/RF to such an extent that he has only a peak case at any one position. It is surely the case that he would have been at or near the top of any of those lists had he played there his entire career. This is not to penalize Musial for being a versatile player as you can see by his top-10 placement on the overall position player list. If it makes you more comfy to have him as the #3 all-time LF, feel free to insert him there."

By the way, I think Yount must have benefited quite a bit from the WAR recalculations -- I don't recall him being that close to Banks in career SS WAR. Could be my memory of course.

Oh yeah, the 1st ballot C trivia was of course Bench. Fisk probably would have been if not for debuting with Ryan, Brett and Yount -- he came close as it is. But that means we should not have considered Piazza a "slam dunk" to get elected on the first ballot ... and especially not given (sans PEDs), he was going to be in a very similar position to Fisk. And I accept Brock's technical correction on Ewing.
   103. JoeD has the Imperial March Stuck in His Head Posted: December 21, 2012 at 01:17 AM (#4329888)
I guess it's all what you want out of your list Walt.

I (like most) put everyone on one and only one list. It's a way of sorting it all out. It has nothing to do with what they did *only* at that position. ARod is a SS, everything he does goes on the SS list. It's pretty simple, and pretty much every list I've ever seen treats it this way.

It does nothing for me to show that Yount might be the #20 SS and the #20 CF. It does a lot more to say that he's a guy who is top 5 at a position, and that position for him works out to be SS because that's where he had the most value.

And you need to account for era too. Because a 1B in 2012 has much different (less) responsibility in the field than a 1B in 1903 does. I definitely wouldn't equate LF/RF with 1B.

Pre liveball 1B would be further up the spectrum and in the 1800s RF overall hit better than DHs or 1B today. But that's a whole different enchilada. But in no era is 1B anything like LF/RF (which can be lumped together post 1920 or so).
   104. tshipman Posted: December 21, 2012 at 01:21 AM (#4329889)
I don't think it's a problem with WAR. Catchers (as noted often in these threads) simply play fewer innings than other position players, and those innings must be taken by somebody not nearly as good as Mike Piazza. So, adjust one's thinking for catchers (as AROM suggests above).

At any point in their careers, would you have traded Lofton for Piazza?

Would any GM in baseball?

WAR does not evaluate catchers very well at all.
   105. JoeD has the Imperial March Stuck in His Head Posted: December 21, 2012 at 01:26 AM (#4329890)
Sorry missed your comma between merging LF/RF and 1B/DH . . . I guess you weren't saying to do that after all.

Either way, I still don't see your point on putting guys on multiple lists or not giving them credit because they moved. It really doesn't make any sense to me at all, unless you are just being strict to be strict. I don't see any utility from doing it that way.

It's much easier, and you get a better idea for the true value of a player's career when your lists are "the best careers of players who primarily played SS" than a list of who had the most value exactly as a SS.

For one, being able to still play after you can't field the position anymore is a huge part of the career value of a player. That's why guys that can do it play until they are 35 or 40 and guys that can't are out of the league at 30-32.
   106. JoeD has the Imperial March Stuck in His Head Posted: December 21, 2012 at 01:27 AM (#4329891)
WAR evaluates catchers just fine. The 'user' just needs to make a mental note of the career and seasonal baseline for catchers being lower than that of positions that can play the full schedule and aren't limited to about 2000 career games.
   107. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: December 21, 2012 at 07:32 AM (#4329913)
At any point in their careers, would you have traded Lofton for Piazza?

Would any GM in baseball?

WAR does not evaluate catchers very well at all.

WAR evaluates catchers just fine. The 'user' just needs to make a mental note of the career and seasonal baseline for catchers being lower than that of positions that can play the full schedule and aren't limited to about 2000 career games.
I don't think that's fully a response to the problem. If our best value stats are right, catchers are massively overrated by baseball GMs. You can say there should be an adjustment in Hall of Fame voting because it's about greatness, not value (which I agree with), but that doesn't address the value question.

I wouldn't use Lofton as an example, since B-Ref WAR is something of an outlier in its evaluation of him. But these are the players surrounding Mike Piazza and Yogi Berra on the career WAR list:

Bobby Abreu, Wes Farrell, Sal Bando, Keith Hernandez, Zack Wheat, Willie Davis, Jake Beckley, Tommy John, Early Wynn, Bret Saberhagen, Gary Sheffield, Jim Bunning, Stan Coveleski, Harmon Killebrew, Sherry Magee, Bobby Bonds, Dick Allen, Rube Waddell

Would you trade any of those guys, around his peak, for Piazza or Berra at their peaks? You can make a case for maybe one or two of them, but in general those just don't look like comparable players. Do we overrate the value of catchers?
   108. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: December 21, 2012 at 07:36 AM (#4329915)
Average seasons have value, but they don't indicate greatness
Perhaps, but if that's true, then WAA is a poor tool to use. Which season is "greater"?

600 PA, 1.5 WAR, -0.5 WAA
200 PA, 1.0 WAR, 0.3 WAA

Wins Above Average gives credit to players whose weaker seasons came because of injury rather than relative ineffectiveness, and it subtracts credit from players who weren't actually bad. An interesting option might be career WAR in seasons with 2+ WAR. That would give a much better sense of a player's quality above average. (My favorite way to do quickie comparisons is an ordered career WAR list, best season to worst, looking only at seasons with 2+ WAR.)
   109. bobm Posted: December 21, 2012 at 11:54 AM (#4330193)
Ernie Banks and Graig Nettles have almost identical career WAR. Nettles may be better than the BBWAA thinks he was (he's in the HOM), but Ernie Banks was a very great baseball player; Nettles, OTOH, was a solidly OK guy for much longer.

Nettles' WAA is also higher, but a far greater percentage of his value is defense. The different mix of sources of value (offense/defense) affects both perceptions and the calculations of value.
   110. JJ1986 Posted: December 21, 2012 at 12:22 PM (#4330249)
Would an exponential salary-value estimator eliminate the problems with using either WAR or WAA? It would downplay average seasons without eliminating them.
   111. DL from MN Posted: December 21, 2012 at 01:06 PM (#4330325)
At any point in their careers, would you have traded Lofton for Piazza?

Would any GM in baseball?

This is usually the question I try to answer when ranking.

If our best value stats are right, catchers are massively overrated by baseball GMs.

I think it's much more likely our best value stats (or how we use them) are wrong when it comes to catchers.
   112. DL from MN Posted: December 21, 2012 at 01:08 PM (#4330329)
Would an exponential salary-value estimator eliminate the problems with using either WAR or WAA?

Could be. It might also help above average catchers by valuing their contribution more.
   113. Joyful Calculus Instructor Posted: December 21, 2012 at 01:17 PM (#4330341)
[107] I find it funny that you listed Gary Sheffield, since Sheffield was traded for Piazza when they were both in peak form.
   114. Jarrod HypnerotomachiaPoliphili (TeddyF.Ballgame) Posted: December 21, 2012 at 04:23 PM (#4330533)
Are you going to give extra credit for every player that went to college? Wasn't he also playing baseball in college too? I'm sure that helped his development.

I'm all for extra credit where appropriate, but I don't see it with Lofton.

He didn't play in college, actually. Well, barely. From Wikipedia:

Lofton decided to try out for the Wildcats baseball team during his junior year. He played in just five baseball games and recorded only one official at-bat while at Arizona but his speed and potential were recognized by baseball scouts, including the Houston Astros' Clark Crist. The Astros later selected Lofton in the 17th round of the 1988 MLB Draft. He played minor league baseball during the summer while completing his basketball eligibility at Arizona. The Astros organization asked Lofton to play minor league baseball in the Florida Instructional League but Lofton declined, citing a promise he had made to his grandmother to obtain his degree.

He played one summer during college, basically. I don't mean to give Lofton extra credit, really. I'm just suggesting that he probably wouldn't have been a late bloomer in MLB if he hadn't decided to spend four years playing basketball. He was a two-sport star in high school and accepted a hoops scholarship to get out of the Chicago slums. As a suburban kid with the wherewithal to bum around in the minors straight out of high school, he might have chosen differently and likely would have reached the majors much sooner.

   115. JoeD has the Imperial March Stuck in His Head Posted: December 23, 2012 at 11:46 AM (#4331444)
Definitely a fair point Teddy . . . didn't realize that. Probably not extra credit worthy IMO, but I could see the case, it's stronger than I thought.
   116. JoeD has the Imperial March Stuck in His Head Posted: December 23, 2012 at 11:50 AM (#4331447)
When I add it all up I get Banks with 1.04 pennants added (similar to Al Simmons or Joe Jackson) and Nettles with .93 (similar to Willie Stargell or Jimmy Collins). Generally the in/out line for me falls around .83-.85 or so. So I don't see Banks and Nettles as all that similar, even though my system doesn't go peak crazy.

   117. base ball chick Posted: December 23, 2012 at 02:28 PM (#4331539)
why can't you add up the war at the different positions played?

WAR for x years at CF + WAR for x years at DH etc

it's more honest/accurate than pretending someone played CF his entire career. it is beyond ridiculous that molitor is considered a 3rd baseman or edgar martinez.

and one of these days, WAR needs to be fixed so that it takes off SERIOUS points for DH - not even replacement level at ANY position
   118. Peter Farted Posted: December 28, 2012 at 05:18 PM (#4333885)
Despite the misuse of WAR, I really like that Davidoff at least makes an effort to check the metrics. Plus, I love his little blurbs.

Last year:
"Lenny Harris: Good Lord. No."

This year:
"Larry Walker: [long boring speech about why he voted yes for him]"
"Todd Walker: No"
   119. Squash Posted: December 28, 2012 at 06:49 PM (#4333933)
The key when it comes to HOF voting is probably to compare players against others at their position, rather than against the baseball universe at large. Piazza's WAR might not be huge compared to stud outfielders - but compared to other catchers he's massive. And/or if you want to compare them between positions, use some version of WAR/game (or inning or PA or whatever) to account for the fact that the HOF candidate outfielder plays 2400 games in his career but the catcher only 1800 (or whatever).
   120. vivaelpujols Posted: December 28, 2012 at 06:53 PM (#4333935)
####, this is the best ballot I've seen yet. Woohoo, Lofton.
   121. vivaelpujols Posted: December 28, 2012 at 07:19 PM (#4333946)
Ray is in top form this thread, jesus ###### christ.
   122. Rob_Wood Posted: December 28, 2012 at 07:22 PM (#4333950)
Great ballot. One of a select few who maxed out at 10 on the ballot.
   123. vivaelpujols Posted: December 28, 2012 at 08:05 PM (#4333971)
Heck if you came up with a system in which Piazza isn't one of the top 5 candidates since Rickey, then you need to re-examine your system.

Easy now. I agree that Piazza should be in the top 5 this year, but I'd put Clemens, Bonds, Bagwell, Schilling and Blyleven ahead of him. Okay top 6. Close enough, forget I said anything ;)

Regarding catcher adjustments, the biggest thing brought up is that catcher's careers are cut short due to the demands of the position. Piazza has 7745 PA (with no real decline phase, .843 OPS in Petco at age 37 is insane). McGwire had 7760 PA, Walker had 8030, Edgar had 8674. Certainly playing time is an issue here, but if you give him 9000 PA he only adds 10-15 WAR and is still not distinguishable from Walker, Raines, Trammell, etc. If you give him even more PA than that you to account for a greater decline phase and he won't add much more value. So in order to make Piazza an inner circle kind of guy, you'd also have to either argue with Piazza's dWAR numbers, which say his poor fielding negated all of his positional value, or argue for relative rankings based on position.

I don't think there's much evidence that dWAR values him wrong (although Rally's research on game calling is evidence that he had more defensive value, maybe that brings him up to 75 WAR in addition to the playing time adjustments), so I think the second position is the most defensive value. However, I can think of structural reasons why catchers are underrepresented in the all time greats list. For one, more than another position, catcher's are selected for their intangibles. Furthermore, great hitting catchers, like Mauer, Torre, are often moved off the position because teams want them to play more games and don't want their hitting negatively effected. But still I'm sympathetic to the idea that value relative to position should carry some weight.

So if you make all of those adjustments (and I'm not sure I would because the playing time and positional adjustments overlap to some degree) you can get him up to like 85 WAR. That's top 50 of all time. Is that what most of you guys have him at, or do you think he's better?
   124. Squash Posted: December 29, 2012 at 02:53 AM (#4334092)
If you give Piazza 15 WAR that puts him at 71 WAR, which is top 50 of position players all time. Around 80 WAR seems to be the cutoff for true all-time great - that's around when the really big names start. Yet the top catcher, Johnny Bench, is at 72.3. So there's never been an all-time great catcher? That doesn't make a ton of sense. Either way I don't think we need to prorate plate appearances, it's more about comparing between positions, which have their own distinct vagaries. Piazza is #5 all time in catchers for WAR. That's pretty elite, and if that doesn't belong in the HOF it's an extremely small hall, probably a much smaller one than anyone wants. If we go to #15 for outfielders (5 x 3 outfielders per outfield), everyone below Clemente is out. If we go to #5 for 1B, everyone below Roger Connor is out. For 3B, everyone below Wade Boggs out. These are all elite, 80+ WAR, inner circle guys, and there are a whole lot of great players below them who everyone would argue as no-doubters.
   125. bigglou115 is not an Illuminati agent Posted: December 29, 2012 at 03:13 AM (#4334095)
If you give Piazza 15 WAR that puts him at 71 WAR, which is top 50 of position players all time.

Bench had 8600+ PAs, Piazza had 7700+. Would you really want to apply a modifier to a guy who had 8600+ PAs? Because, to me, a 10-15 WAR difference over their career doesn't sound too far off. A ton of this would go away if there was a common method for making a rate version of WAR without trying to figure out the difference between .009 WAR/PA and .01 WAR/PA.
   126. Misirlou doesn't live in the restaurant Posted: December 29, 2012 at 09:05 AM (#4334117)
Average seasons have value, but they don't indicate greatness

Perhaps, but if that's true, then WAA is a poor tool to use. Which season is "greater"?

600 PA, 1.5 WAR, -0.5 WAA
200 PA, 1.0 WAR, 0.3 WAA

The answer is, neither is great, and neither adds anything to a HOF resume.

The effect becomes magnified as you move well down the WAR list, since most of the players near the top have great career totals; great careers correlate well with great peaks. But if you wander way down the page, you see things like Jackie Jensen having the same career WAR as Rondell White. White was a good player, perhaps better than I remember him (I remember him as just some guy). And Jensen was overrated by his RBI totals, which were a function of his team and park; he didn't deserve his MVP award. And Rondell White wasn't afraid of flying, which helped him get the maximum out of his career. But Jensen was by far the better baseball player.

Santo vs Raffy. Both have ~ 66 career WAR, but Santo's came in the form of 9.6, 8.7, 8.6, 7.3, 6.3, 6.2 While Raffy peaked at 6.5, had a couple in the 5's, and a whole boatload of 3's and 4's.
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