I have stated before that I don’t particularly care about Hall of Fame debates because I think that the
The idea of examining the what the
I have no interest in what
Up front, I should also tell you that this discussion only deals with post-1900 (or at least significantly post-1900) position players, and only those who had significant careers in the major leagues as we know them today (in other words, no Negro Leaguers). I have previously written up my personal rankings of the pitchers, and in that series I wrote a bit about the
I did not want to spend a bunch of time calculating career WAR figures, so I used a reasonable approximation. I used Pete Palmer’s Batter-Fielder Wins (formerly Total Player Rating) from the 2005 ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia. In doing so, I am not endorsing TPR; it is not the world’s worst way to evaluate players, but it does have its flaws. The offensive ratings are fine, and the positional adjustment approach is not optimal, but neither is the similar approach that I use, so I can scarcely complain about it. However, the fielding figures leave a lot to be desired.
That said, I am not particular concerned about that, because I am looking at the group of Hall of Famers in the aggregate. Even if I don’t particular trust Palmer’s fielding rating for Nap Lajoie, any distortion for any particular player will have little effect on the second baseman as a whole (particular the median value).
I needed to convert TPR into a measure above replacement, and that is easy enough. In this issue of By the Numbers (PDF link), approaches are offered by both Bill Deane and Tom Ruane. The approach that I used is closer to that of Deane’s, but a little more generous--I gave each player a win for every 73.6 games in which they played. That works out to 2.2 wins/162 games. Most estimates of replacement level peg it at around 2 wins per season for an individual position player; I used 2.2 because the .350 OW% (73% of average R/G) standard that I use coupled with 10 runs per win (the long-term average for Palmer’s RPW formula, corresponding to 9 RPG) suggests that is so. (1 - .73)*4.5 = 1.215 runs per game less for a replacement player in an average context. 1.215*162/9 = 21.87 runs for an individual player, divided by 10 is 2.2 wins.
If you want to argue that plate appearances or outs would be a more accurate way to add the extra wins, I’m not going to object. Using games will tend to overvalue part-time players, who may appear briefly as a pinch-hitter or defensive replacement. Again, my objective here is not to make fine distinctions between players but rather to have a rough estimate of value that we can use to examine groups of players.
If I was dealing with pitchers, I would add a win for each 80 innings pitched. (1.25-1)*4.5 = 1.125 less runs per nine innings, which is .1125 less per inning, divided by 10 runs per win = .0125 (1/80) wins/inning.
Now that the details are out of the way, let’s start looking at the results. First, just for the heck of it, here are the top ten Hall of Famers in WAR using this method. Again, I’m note endorsing these figures as being particularly good, but this is just to satisfy natural curiosity:
1. Ruth, 146
2. Lajoie, 129
3. Cobb, 127
4. Aaron, 126
5. Mays, 125
6. Speaker, 121
7. Wagner, 120
8. Williams, 118
9. Hornsby, 117
9. Musial, 117
I don’t think anyone really believes that Nap Lajoie was the second most valuable player in baseball history, especially after Bill James’ deconstruction of Lajoie’s fielding ranking in Win Shares.
Now let’s get on to the real matter at hand, how the Hall of Famers as a group stand in terms of TPR and WAR. The average TPR for a Hall of Famer is 35, with a WAR of 64. The median is a TPR of 33 with a WAR of 61.
So if WAR is your primary criterion, you can put anyone with a WAR of greater than 61 into the Hall without lowering the bar, as such players can only serve to increase the median. Of course, this analysis ignores the difference between those elected by the Veterans Committee and those elected by the BBWAA, as well as any differences between position.
I included the players (Gehrig and Clemente) who were chosen in special elections as writers’ choices. By my count, there are 42 VC picks, with an average TPR/WAR of 20/46. The median for that group is 18/46.
For the 77 BBWAA picks, the averages are 43/75, with medians of 39/70. So any time the writers’ elect a player with a WAR of at least 70, they can only raise the bar that they have set.
The fact that there are two different groups considering the same players with different standards is one of the big problems I have with the Hall of Fame, and I’ll expand on that thought in the next post. Regardless, it is true that the players selected by the writers contributed much more value to their teams than did those selected by the Veterans’ Committee. The highest-ranked Vets player is Arky Vaughn with 68 WAR, which ranks him below the median writers pick.
Here is the breakdown of the selections by position:
A couple notes on the position breakdown: “LF” is actually all corner outfielders, regardless of whether they played left or right. A player is generally classified at the position at which he played the most games, but I made several exceptions, including Ernie Banks (short rather than first), Rod Carew (second), Harmon Killebrew (third), and Paul Molitor (third).
To be honest, this is not what I expected to see. I expected to see positions on the left side of the defensive spectrum have the lower mean and median WAR figures then those on the right side. I was thinking that the difficulty of measuring fielding value would lead to shortstops with unimpressive TPR/WAR but strong defensive reputations being enshrined. Instead, first baseman are tied with center fielders for the lowest median value.
Of course, it is possible that Palmer’s evaluation system is overvaluing fielding, and thus making the left-side players look more valuable than they were. My take, though, is that it is an indication of how shallow reasoning behind many of the
Here is a similar chart, this one giving the figures for those elected by the writers. I am not running a similar chart for the Veterans’ selections, so the last column in this chart lists the number of VC picks at the position:
One thing that can be said for the writers is that they have done an excellent job of balancing selections by position. All positions have between nine and eleven elected players (I am averaging the 21 corner outfielders across the two positions) with the exception of center field (seven).
Again, first baseman bring up the rear in terms of WAR, with a median of only 53 for the nine selections. Centerfielders have been held to a much tougher standard than any other position, so it would seem. The top four players (Cobb, Speaker, Mays, Mantle) tower over the others in WAR, with DiMaggio standing alone in a middle tier. The other two choices, Snider and Puckett, are at 52 and 48 WAR respectively.
Of course, my characterization may not be fair, as center field just happens to be a position where there have been a number of megastars, but slim pickings after that. However, I do consider it surprising that some of the marginal (at least in comparison to a DiMaggio or Mays) candidates like Jimmy Wynn, Reggie Smith, and Dale Murphy have been overlooked by the writers.
In closing, I acknowledge that I have thrown around a word like “standards” a lot, but that is incomplete, as I have only looked at this from the perspective of who is in the
Finally, here is a link to a spreadsheet listing each player I considered, their primary position, which group elected them, and their career TPR and WAR.