The Unjust, Long-Lasting Effects of Awards Voting on Hall of Fame Enshrinement
A number of years ago, Saturday Night Live ran a spoof of the ESPY Awards. It mocked the ESPY's because athletic contests, by definition, are competitions in themselves. Movies, television, theater and music are not, so it makes some sense to set up an awards ceremony to recognize the standouts. Major professional sports leagues do give out awards to individuals but even in this case, it is usually pretty easy - or rather - there exist objective measures to identify who the most deserving award recipients are. For instance, in baseball, the WPA, WARP, or Win Shares leader in any given season would be a perfectly suitable way to determine your MVP, Rookie of the Year or Cy Young pick.
But for better or worse, that is not how individual baseball honors have been awarded over the years. Instead, individuals within the electorate come up with all sorts of different definitions. "Best player on a contender." "The player with the most home runs on a playoff team." "The pitcher with the lowest ERA on a division winner." "Most RBI's." "Most wins." "Best player on a post-season qualifying team over the last two months of the season."
You get the point. Awards have prestige because they are MLB-sanctioned and have become a major aspect of baseball history but in and of themselves they are pretty meaningless. They tell you who a group of writers, some who pay close attention some who don't, some with an eye for the game some without, some knowledgeable on accurate performance metrics and some not, thinks deserves a given award as they, individually, have defined it. The awards mean nothing more, nothing less.
It should be different for the Hall of Fame. If you watched the Twins down the stretch in 2006, it would have been easy to become enamored with Justin Morneau. "All those RBI's!" "He carried them as they came back and won the AL Central!" Home Runs and RBI and extra base hits are more exciting than, say, walks or steady defense from the catcher position. But in time and upon reflection, one cannot possibly continue to hold that Morneau was better than his teammate Joe Mauer in 2006. Mauer's OBP-heavy 144 OPS+ bested Morneau's 140 number and Mauer is a FREAKING REALLY GOOD DEFENSIVE CATCHER while Morneau is a first baseman. So, in twenty years or so when it comes time to weigh Mauer's candidacy, don't tell me he only finished in the top-five in MVP voting "x" amount of times. Because he finished 6th in 2006 when he was easily the American League's best player (and on a division winner, no less).
Year after year when it comes time to vote for the Hall of Fame, the electorate - or at least the ones that come public with their ballots - cite awards results as though they have any meaning whatsoever in determining an individual's Hall worthiness.
Here's T.R. Sullivan on Bert Blyleven:
I see no Cy Young Awards and just two All-Star appearances.
And Mike Nadel, who bypasses Blyleven but votes for Jack Morris (and Jim Rice):
Jim Rice, top five in MVP voting six times in a 12-year span....Jack Morris, top 10 in Cy Young voting seven times.
Peter Gammons on Tim Raines:
My problem is that [Raines] never finished higher than fifth in the MVP balloting.
Sean McAdam on Blyleven:
For a guy who pitched 22 seasons, he received Cy Young votes in four years. Put another way, only once every five years, Blyleven was considered one of his league's 10 best pitchers. Sorry, but that doesn't exactly scream "all-time great" to me.
Or put another way, McAdam has no idea how Cy Young voting actually works. Each voter fills in his or her top three, which means that, for all McAdam knows, Blyleven was considered no worse than the fourth best pitcher in his league every single year of his career by the Cy Young voters. Anyway, you get the idea here. The electorate weighs awards voting heavily when considering who belongs in the Hall. It has to stop.
Combined, Blyleven, Raines and Alan Trammell have won ZERO Cy Young awards or MVP's. You would be hard pressed to find a Hall case against any one of the three that failed to mention that they underwhelmed their contemporary awards voters. Well let's look at some specific examples of awards voting during their playing days for an indication of how meaningful awards voting really ought to be. We will start with an award that had nothing to do with any of the players mentioned, the 1984 National League Cy Young voting.
IP SO BB K/9 K/BB WHIP ERA+
Sut 150 155 39 9.3 4.0 1.08 144
Doc 218 276 73 11.4 3.8 1.07 137
Here are Rick Sutcliffe and Dwight Gooden's numbers in the National League in 1984. Cleveland dealt Sutcliffe to the Cubs mid-season and the right-hander subsequently went on to go 16-1, pitching the Cubs into their first post-season appearance in 39 years. It was a big deal. But still, look at the numbers above. I don't know; if I was a voter I would have a hard time telling who the better pitcher was. Well the electorate did not have such a difficult time. Sutcliffe won unanimously, despite strikeout numbers that paled in comparison to Doc's and only pitching part of the season in the National League. Unanimously! Were Doc Gooden a HOF candidate, and Lord knows he could have been (that's another story), that he did not win the 1984 Cy Young award would work against him according to today's prevailing wisdom amongst the electorate.
POS AVG OBP SLG OPS+
Trammell SS .343 .402 .551 155
Bell LF .308 .352 .605 146
This one is great; these are the 1987 numbers for both George Bell and Trammell, who toiled for the two best teams in the AL East but Trammell's Tigers were the division winners. Both hit very well, although clearly Trammell was the better performer. Again, like the 2006 voting, in some small way it's excusable. A .600 slugging number is big, and we all take to home runs and RBI's and when your ballot is due before the playoffs start and all those long fly balls are fresh in your memory, hey, let's just say I get it. Or at least I can excuse it. It's cool. But seriously, upon reflection and knowing what we know now, can't we all agree that the solid fielding shortstop with the .402 on-base and 155 OPS+ was better than the poor fielding left fielder with the .352 on-base and a 146 OPS+? And if we can agree on that, can we not also agree then that the fact that Trammell never won an MVP should not be held against him in any way?
POS AVG OBP SLG SB CS OPS+
McGee CF .353 .384 .503 56 16 147
Raines LF .320 .405 .475 70 9 151
So this is more like the first example, the 1984 NL Cy Young voting. These numbers are from 1985. I look at these two players, squint for a while and then still can't really tell who was better. Raines was the superior offensive performer but then, he was also a left fielder. He should be the better offensive producer. The two were neck-and-neck for best player in the National League in '85. Of course Willie McGee's Cardinals won 101 games and were one of the better teams of the decade while the Expos were an 84-win 3rd place team in 1985, an entirely forgettable club. So ok, McGee got the nod for MVP, probably helped in part by his team's performance. Well where did Raines finish? Twelfth! He finished twelfth in the NL MVP voting that season. Oh and for good measure, first baseman Keith Hernandez, at .309/.384/.430 (3 SB, 3 CS), finished eighth that season.
K/9 K/BB ERA+ Post-ERA Post W-L
Blyleven 6.7 2.8 118 2.47 5-1
Morris 5.8 1.8 105 3.80 7-4
We will end here in response to those who cite Morris's strong showings in CYA voting, something Blyleven was not able to do consistently. So let's just objectively compare the two pitchers. And you know what? Let's go all rate stats and post-season stats. There are some out there that want to cast aside Blyleven's career totals because they do not value longevity. "Hang around long enough and you are bound to compile some numbers." Okay, that's fine. We will ignore the 1,100 career innings pitched advantage, the 1,300 strikeouts and the 33 wins. Now look at those numbers above, rate numbers all, and tell me that Morris was superior to Blyleven. It's as preposterous a contention as I could imagine. There is no intellectually honest way to support that Morris was a better pitcher or had the better career than Blyleven. And yet Knowitalls across the country maintain that Morris was better. So when it comes time to cast HOF votes, for some like Mike Nadel and Jon Heyman and Bruce Jenkins, you know, it's not that the numbers discredit the Cy Young voting, it's the Cy Young voting that discredit the numbers and, by extension, the Hall of Fame case.
I am going to end this piece with a comment from Rich's Jon Heyman
beatdown piece from Tuesday. It neatly sums up the fallacy of using awards voting for evidence of one's Hall worthiness. The remark was made by a reader named Jason, and I believe it was the 72nd comment if you want to check it out for yourself.
As for Blyleven, I saw him pitch on TV a few times as a kid (I'm within a bloop single of 40 yrs old) and never appreciated how good he was over his career until the "stat-heads" enlightened me. My perception was colored by the writers' lack of respect for BB in Cy Young voting. But there is no reason to compound ignorance with stupidity.
I can't say it any better. Indeed, "there is no reason to compound ignorance with stupidity."