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Thursday, December 05, 2002

Assessing Ryno

Bob takes a look at Ryne Sandberg and the upcoming Hall of Fame voting.

Among the names on the recently disclosed Hall of Fame ballot for the current election is Ryne Sandberg. I thought it might be useful to look at his chances of being selected by the BBWAA.

At present, there are 16 players in the HOF whose primary position was second base, ranging from Nap Lajoie (enshrined in 1937) to Bill Mazeroski, who was inducted via the Veterans Committee in 2001. It is clear from the list that defense at the position figures prominently in the selection process. Mazeroski, along with 19th century star Bid McPhee, would probably never have made the Hall on their offense alone, nor would Johnny Evers and Nellie Fox and Red Schoendienst. A few have gained entrance based mostly on their prowess with the bat, despite indifferent defensive reputations; Rogers Hornsby, Tony Lazzeri and Rod Carew serve as illustrations. The best of the lot excelled both at the plate and in the field.

How would Ryne Sandberg look in this company? Early comments I have seen on his chances suggest that, among this year’s fresh candidates, only Eddie Murray looks like a sure thing, while some observers think Ryno might fall short in his initial year but eventually gain election after a couple of tries.

I put together a universe consisting of 20 second-sackers - the 16 Hall of Famers plus Sandberg and three others who might be considered fairly comparable: Lou Whitaker, who in his first year of eligibility failed to gain the 5% of the vote necessary to remain on the ballot; Bobby Grich, who suffered the same fate several years earlier; and Joe Gordon, who remained on the ballot for 15 years without ever attracting enough votes to be elected, thus leaving his fate in the hands of the Veterans Committee.

As for metrics on which to rank them, I chose six: 1) TPR (Total Player Rating) from Palmer & Thorn’s Total Baseball; 2) WARP2 (Wins Above Replacement Player) from Clay Davenport’s “Player Cards” on the Baseball Prospectus website; 3) EQA (Equivalent Average), also from BP; 4) Win Shares, from the Bill James book of that name; 5) The HOF Monitor, another James creation now carried on the Baseball-Reference website; and 6) HOF Career Standards, from the same source. Three of these measures track both offensive and defensive accomplishments, while the other three focus on offense.

The 20 players were then ranked in each category, with 20 points awarded for a first place finish, 19 for second place, etc. Adding the points together yields a maximum potential of 120 points if any player ranked #1 in every category. The results follow.

                              HOF   HOF
            TPR   WARP2   EQA   WS   MON.  STAND.  TOTAL

Rogers Hornsby   19   17   20   18   20   20     114        
Eddie Collins   18   20   18   20   17   19     112
Nap Lajoie     20   19   16   17   18   17     107
Joe Morgan     17   18   19   19   14   15     102
Charlie Gehringer 15   14   13   15   19   18     94
Rod Carew       9   12   15   16   16   14     82
Frankie Frisch   12   11     6   14   15   16     74
Ryne Sandberg   11   15     8   12   13   13     72
Lou Whitaker     5   16   12   13     7   12     65
Bobby Grich     16   13   14   11     2     6     62
Bobby Doerr     13     8     7     7     8   11     54
Billy Herman     7   10     9     8   11     8     53
Jackie Robinson   8     4   17     4     9     7     49
Bid McPhee     14     7     2   10     4   10     47
Nellie Fox       2     6     3     9   12     5     37
Tony Lazzeri     4     2   11     3     6     9     35
Joe Gordon       6     5   10     2     5     4     32
Red Schoendienst   1     3     4     5   10     3     26
Bill Mazeroski   10     9     1     1     3     1     25
Johnny Evers     3     1     5     6     1     2     18


From this tabulation, it may be observed that the top four players, well ahead of the rest, might be regarded as “Inner Circle” Hall of Famers. Along with the next three (plus Jackie Robinson), they are also the only ones elected by a vote of the BBWAA. The remaining eight HOFers gained admission via the various Veterans Committees. Three of the players who remain outside the Hall are ranked 8-9-10 in this company while the fourth (Gordon) still ranks ahead of a few inductees.

The point is that Ryne Sandberg, based on these popular statistical measures, would fit in very nicely with those already enshrined. For that matter, so would Bobby Grich and Lou Whitaker, but they aren’t on the current ballot and will have to wait for action by the Vets at some far distant date. (At present, to be eligible for consideration by the newly constituted VC, players must have retired in 1981 or earlier.)

Another consideration may be the history of the Most Valuable Player award, also the province of the BBWAA. Six of the top seven players on the list above (as noted, all voted in by the writers) also won the MVP award at some point in their careers. Lajoie is the exception, but there was no MVP award until his career was near its sunset. Further down the list, HOFers Robinson, Nelson Fox and Johnny Evers all were once named MVP, as was Joe Gordon among the outsiders. Finally, so was Sandberg, for his fine 1984 season, and that fact may help his cause. The only second baseman to be named MVP and not appear on the list above is Jeff Kent, still an active player.

We will find out early in the new year how much support Ryne Sandberg gets in the actual HOF voting. His selection would certainly not be an embarassment, and there seems to be solid evidence in his favor. The main caveat consists of the BBWAA’s earlier dismissal of Bobby Grich and Lou Whitaker, perhaps Sandberg’s two most similar contemporaries.


Bob Allen Posted: December 05, 2002 at 05:00 AM | 17 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Rob Wood Posted: December 05, 2002 at 01:08 AM (#607487)
I agree with Brian. I've always thought that Sandberg would be a first-ballot HOF'er. If, as some people are predicting, he falls short on this ballot, I am confident that he'd make it next year since the 2004 ballot first-timers are a fairly weak bunch. Thanks Bob for an excellent article.
   2. Andere Richtingen Posted: December 05, 2002 at 01:08 AM (#607491)
What the hell more does the BBWAA want?

Nothing, probably. I think he's in on the first ballot, along with Eddie Murray.
   3. eric Posted: December 05, 2002 at 01:08 AM (#607492)
Ryne Sandberg's biggest obstacle to Hall of Fame election seems to be his ill-fated comeback after he retired the first time. When he retired in 1994, he was regarded as a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer and the best all-around second baseman, if not ever, then certainly since Joe Morgan. So what happened? He came back, and had a couple of very pedestrian seasons, while Roberto Alomar was establishing new standards of all-around play at second base. Had Sandberg remained retired, he'd already be in the Hall of Fame, no questions asked, so it's not really fair that he should be excluded for attempting a comeback, since his two subpar seasons don't erase all of the great ones he had previously.

Another similar case can be made for Sandberg's one-time teammate Goose Gossage. Remember him? The man who was regarded as Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers' equal if not superior as the greatest relief pitcher of all-time? The man who finished second to Fingers in career saves, back when saves meant something? The man who wrote the book on intimidation and power in the closer's spot? Why isn't he in the Hall of Fame? Because he hung on a good six or seven years after he was no longer a dominant figure, which meant that he didn't appear on the Hall of Fame ballot until well over a decade past his Hall of Fame level play, and was passed left and right on the saves list by pitchers who couldn't carry his jock strap, but could pitch a 1-2-3 ninth under little duress. So, with his memory faded, and his statistical record diminished, Gossage may not make the Hall of Fame, even though he arguably could have had he retired five years sooner.

It makes you wonder, what if Sandy Koufax had stuck around another five years, struggling through injuries and putting up below average numbers. Or how about Kirby Puckett? Does that take away Koufax's 6 years of total domination or Puckett's two unbelievable World Series and decade of 200 hit seasons? Can a player, after clearly playing his way into Hall of Fame status for a significant number of seasons, play his way out of it? (Don Mattingly is another possible example, but I'm not sure he was great enough for long enough.) In my mind, the answer should be no, so both Ryne Sandberg and Goose Gossage belong in the Hall of Fame.
   4. fracas' hope springs eternal Posted: December 05, 2002 at 01:08 AM (#607493)
When he retired in 1994, he was regarded as a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer and the best all-around second baseman, if not ever, then certainly since Joe Morgan.

I absolutely disagree. A week before he retired, I thought he was a sure-fire first ballot guy. But I also thought he'd keep playing until he was at least 37 or 38. The moment I heard about his retirement, I knew I had to readjust my thinking because he didn't have the career numbers to be a sure thing yet.

I think his "comeback," as average as it was, made sure he will be a HOFer. Unfortunately, it wasn't strong enough to ensure a first ballot election. It didn't drag him back, though; it nudged him forward.
   5. eric Posted: December 05, 2002 at 01:08 AM (#607494)

I hope you're right. I was actually referring more to the subjective element of reputation than to stats. Numberwise, the comeback boost some raw totals and lowered some averages, so that's probably a wash.

Actually, we are seeing something very similar happening right now with Ken Griffey, Jr. Wouldn't it be something if a member of the All-Century team didn't make the Hall? (Without a lifetime ban.)
   6. MattB Posted: December 06, 2002 at 01:08 AM (#607500)
This quote is the most important, I think:

"Along with the next three (plus Jackie Robinson), they are also the only ones elected by a vote of the BBWAA. The remaining eight HOFers gained admission via the various Veterans Committees."

When criticizing the BBWAA for not inducting Whitaker, et. al., it probably makes sense to compare him (and Sandberg) only to those players the BBWAA actually inducted.

The Veteran's Committee, almost by necessity needs a lower standard for admission than the writers do, or else they'd never select anyone.

Now, just because the bottom 8 gained admission through the Veteran's Committee, does that mean that the writers are obligated to lower their standards in order to induct Sandberg and Whitaker?

Or, more likely, does it mean that, based on precedent, Whitaker and Sandberg are borderline cases for admission, and are the type of player who will/should eventually be chosen by the Veteran's Committee?

Electing Sandburg would essentially make Ryno the worst second baseman selected by the Writers. This doesn't make him a bad choice, necessarily, but it is the reason that he should be considered borderline.
   7. Charles Saeger Posted: December 06, 2002 at 01:08 AM (#607502)
Well, no, Whitaker ranking higher is not just because of playing time. He did have a higher EQA in his time, though Sandberg was a better fielder.

I'd take Sandberg, and there's a reason: Whitaker could not hit left-handed pitchers. He platooned for the last 40% of his career, and that pushed his overall numbers up when he was really hitting less. (He had his best PRO+ in his career in 1991, when he was 34 and batting around 100 times a year against lefties, don't have the exact numbers. Whitaker was an offensive zero against lefties, he hit .236 against them through 1990, and had not hit even .236 since 1983.) Given another 100 plate appearances a year of hitting .200, Whitaker would look worse.
   8. jimd Posted: December 06, 2002 at 01:08 AM (#607507)
Using the ranking system that James developed for the NHBA (with no subjective adjustments).

Morgan is practically tied with Hornsby and Collins; order them as you will.

Sandberg is slightly ahead of Gehringer and Carew.

Grich is slightly ahead of Frisch, and definitely behind the Sandberg group.

The edge that Sandberg and Grich enjoy is the timeline adjustment; remove that and Sandberg-Gehringer and Grich-Frisch are practically tied (within 1 point on a 200 point scale), though there is a gap between the two pairs. Why Grich was ignored by the BBWAA is one of those mysteries.

I don't have the NHBA handy so I can't check how James actually ranked them. I evaluated all 8 BBWAA electees except Jackie Robinson (he requires subjective adjustments to account for bigotry and WWII).

By the NHBA system, Whitaker is definitely the lesser star of the three. Sorry, but I didn't evaluate the Veteran's Committee electees to see how Lou compares with them.
   9. fracas' hope springs eternal Posted: December 06, 2002 at 01:08 AM (#607508)
I was gonna let the "Sandburg gets a boost because of his higher peak" argument go, but I'm in a pissy mood.

First off, while Bill James has demonstrated that peak-and-trough career patterns lead to more pennants on average, they don't lead to very many more: 3.1%, 2.9%, or 0.6%, depending on the study BJ did. Sometimes the peak comes in a year the team has no shot, while the trough takes them out of contention in a year they might have made it. (And before you track Sandberg's stats versus the Cubs' W-L numbers, remember that he didn't choose which years would be good ones, that's luck.)

Second, if you're going to give Sandberg extra credit for his higher peak, don't you have to give him demerits for the 1.5 season-long replacement-level trough he left the Cubs in during his first retirement?

Just wondering....
   10. Rob Wood Posted: December 07, 2002 at 01:08 AM (#607512)
While I agree with fracas' general point that peak-value considerations can easily be given too much weight, I think Sandberg may be an exception. Sandberg led the Cubs to a division title in 1984, the first time they reached the post-season since 1945, as all long-suffering Cub fans know. This was not a random occurrence, everybody followed the story all year long (especially after that famous game when Sandberg hit two home runs off of Bruce Sutter on national TV). Sandberg had another good year in 1989 and led the Cubs to another division title. They have not won anything since (except for a Wild Card after which they did not win a single game in the playoff). So I think most voters will give Sandberg extra credit for getting the lowly Cubs into the post-season.
   11. Repoz Posted: December 08, 2002 at 01:08 AM (#607522)
2004 ballot first-timers are a fairly weak bunch

Rob...Eck and Molitor are 1st timers in 04...and look like locks.
2005 has Boggs....If Sandberg doesn't make it this year,I could see 2006 as the easiest year with only Belle to really be considered (and we know how that will go).
   12. John Posted: December 08, 2002 at 01:08 AM (#607527)

Do we? I think the Belle election will be one of the most interesting in a LONG time (being that he was a better hitter than Murray and only slightly more churlish)...

Ryno's in, and deservedly so.
   13. John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: December 08, 2002 at 01:08 AM (#607528)
Do we? I think the Belle election will be one of the most interesting in a LONG time (being that he was a better hitter than Murray and only slightly more churlish)...

Murray is a far better candidate for the Hall than Belle. Murray is a top-five first basemen, while Belle is not even close to the ten greatest leftfielders of all-time (though he probably would have made it until the injuries got to him).

Belle's best season was better than Murray's best. However, Murray's prime was as good as Belle's (and his career was much longer).

   14. John (You Can Call Me Grandma) Murphy Posted: December 09, 2002 at 01:08 AM (#607533)
Actually, it's no mystery whatsoever if you remember this is the BBWAA that we're talking about.

LOL. That's my laugh for today.

   15. fracas' hope springs eternal Posted: December 12, 2002 at 01:09 AM (#607569)
Considering how the BBWAA treated Lou Whitaker, Sandberg should be relieved to get 5% and stay on the ballot. But I think he'll get at least 50% and you may not even need to polish your Easton.

In fact, I hereby move that any votes for Sandberg in excess of 75% be donated retroactively to Whitaker's ballot and used to restore his eligibility. Who's with me?
   16. fracas' hope springs eternal Posted: December 13, 2002 at 01:09 AM (#607590)
And for me, part of the argument still comes down to not letting time change perception - at the time, he was clearly a future HOF'er, as backed by things like MVP vote results. What has he not done right since 1997 to lose those votes?

At what time? (See my Dec. 5 post.) If you think he was a clear HOFer after 1997, fine. I think he probably is, too. But LOTS of guys look like "clear future HOFers" in mid-career: Albert Belle and Frank Thomas did; Junior Griffey looked like a clear inner-circle guy. Crystal balls cloud up all the time.
   17. Marc Posted: December 14, 2002 at 01:10 AM (#607599)
You read it here first. Among the four major newcomers to the HoF ballot:

Murray gets 400 votes
Sandberg 348
Lee Smith 109
Valenzuela 40

Last year there were 472 votes cast, 354 needed for election. Looks like Ryno comes up a few votes short. Murray is in. Smith comes up well short and behind Gossage and Sutter which might set up some movement in future years in favor of Goose and Bruce except that Eck will put a stop to that. Valenzuela survives to fall below 5 percent another year.

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