The Hall of Fame Reconsidered

Several years ago I wrote some posts (e.g., here and here) about the criteria for membership in baseball’s Hall of Fame, and named some players who should and shouldn’t be in the Hall. A few days ago I published an updated version of my picks. I’ve since deleted that post because, on reflection, I find my criteria too narrow. I offer instead:

  • broad standards of accomplishment that sweep up most members of the Hall who have been elected as players
  • ranked lists of players who qualify for consideration as Hall of Famers, based on those standards.

These are the broad standards of accomplishment for batters:

  • at least 8,000 plate appearances (PA) — a number large enough to indicate that a player was good enough to have attained a long career in the majors, and
  • a batting average of at least .250 — a low cutuff point that allows the consideration of mediocre hitters who might have other outstanding attributes (e.g., base-stealing, fielding).

I rank retired batters who meet those criteria by career wins above average (WAA) per career PA. WAA for a season is a measure of a player’s total offensive and defensive contribution, relative to other players in the same season. (WAA therefore normalizes cross-temporal differences in batting averages, the frequency of home runs, the emphasis on base-stealing, and the quality of fielders’ gloves, for example.) Because career WAA is partly a measure of longevity rather than skill, I divide by career PA to arrive at a normalized measure of average performance over the span of a player’s career.

These are the broad standards of accomplishment for pitchers:

  • at least 3,000 innings pitched, or
  • appearances least 1,000 games (to accommodate short-inning relievers with long careers).

I rank retired pitchers who meet these criteria by career ERA+,. This is an adjusted earned run average (ERA) that accounts for differences in ballparks and cross-temporal differences in pitching conditions (the resilience of the baseball, batters’ skill, field conditions, etc.). Some points to bear in mind:

  • My criteria are broad but nevertheless slanted toward players who enjoyed long careers. Some present Hall of Famers with short careers are excluded (e.g., Ralph Kiner, Sandy Koufax). However great their careers might have been, they didn’t prove themselves over the long haul, so I’m disinclined to include them in my Hall of Fame.
  • I drew on the Play Index at Baseball-Reference.com for the statistics on which the lists are based. The Play Index doesn’t cover years before 1900. That doesn’t bother me because the “modern game” really began in the early 1900s (see here, here, and here). The high batting averages and numbers of games won in the late 1800s can’t be compared with performances in the 20th and 21st centuries.
  • Similarly, players whose careers were spent mainly or entirely in the Negro Leagues are excluded because their accomplishments — however great — can’t be calibrated with the accomplishments of players in the major leagues.

In the following lists of rankings, each eligible player is assigned an ordinal rank, which is based on the adjacent index number. For batters, the index number represents career WAA/PA, where the highest value (Babe Ruth’s) is equal to 100. For pitchers, the index number represents career ERA+, where the highest value (Mariano Rivera’s) is equal to 100. The lists are coded as follows:

  • Blue — elected to the Hall of Fame. (N.B. Joe Torre is a member of the Hall of Fame, but he was elected as a manager, not as a player.)
  • Red — retired more than 5 seasons but not yet elected
  • Bold (with asterisk) — retired less than 5 seasons.

Now, at last, the lists (commentary follows):

Hall of fame candidates_batters

If Bill Mazeroski is in the Hall of Fame, why not everyone who outranks him ? (Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and some others excepted, of course. Note that Mark McGwire didn’t make the list; he had 7,660 PA.) There are plenty of players with more impressive credentials than Mazeroski, whose main claim to fame is a World-Series-winning home run in 1960. Mazeroski is reputed to have been an excellent second-baseman, but WAA accounts for fielding prowess — and other things. Maz’s excellence as a fielder still leaves him at number 194 on my list of 234 eligible batters.

Here’s the list of eligible pitchers:

Hall of fame candidates_pitchers

If Rube Marquard — 111th-ranked of 122 eligible pitchers — is worthy of the Hall, why not all of those pitchers who outrank him? (Roger Clemens excepted, of course.) Where would I draw the line? My Hall of Fame would include the first 100 on the list of batters and the first 33 on the list of pitchers (abusers of PEDs excepted) — and never more than 100 batters and 33 pitchers. Open-ended membership means low standards. I’ll have none of it.

As of today, the top-100 batters would include everyone from Babe Ruth through Joe Sewell (number 103 on the list in the first table). I exclude Barry Bonds (number 3), Manny Ramirez (number 61), and Sammy Sosa (number 99). The top-33 pitchers would include everyone from Mariano Rivera through Eddie Plank (number 34 on the list in the second table). I exclude Roger Clemens (number 5).

My purge would eliminate 109 of the players who are now official members of the Hall of Fame, and many more players who are likely to be elected. The following tables list the current members whom I would purge (blue), and the current non-members (red and bold)  who would miss the cut:

Hall of fame batters not in top 100

Hall of fame pitchers not in top 33

Sic transit gloria mundi.

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