— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Thursday, December 05, 2002
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.
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.