Comparing the Hall Candidates
With the Hall of Fame selections approaching rapidly, I thought I would take a look at how some of the top candidates compare.
Given that the Hall of Fame is supposed to recognize a player's career accomplishments, Wins Above Replacement is the perfect stat to look at when comparing players' careers.
There are 133 Major League players that have been elected into the Hall of Fame via either the baseball writers (BBWAA) or the Old-Timers commission which selected 19th century and dead-ball stars for inclusion back in the 1940's. Of course, there are countless more players who have been elected by the Veterans Committee, but it would be a slippery slope to lower the BBWAA standards down the the threshold necessary for the Veterans Committee, so I'm going to ignore those players for now.
So how many WAR did the 133rd best player who is eligible for the Hall of Fame earn? 58 WAR. If we use 58 WAR as our starting cut-point, who among the players looking for induction meets that criteria?
Of perhaps the 13 most qualified, or at least the 13 most talked about candidates up for election this year, here's how it breaks down:
1. (90) Blyleven
2. (69) Larkin
3. (67) Martinez
4. (67) Trammell
5. (65) Raines
6. (64) Alomar
7. (63) McGwire
8. (57) Dawson
9. (56) Ventura
10. (51) McGriff
11. (50) Appier
12. (44) Murphy
13. (39) Morris
As we can see, there are a number of borderline candidates. The one slam dunk candidate, according to WAR, is Bert Blyleven, who toiled in relative anonymity for most of his career. The one candidate nowhere near Hall of Fame caliber is Jack Morris, who racked up just 39 WAR throughout his career.
However, there are 9 candidates within 10 WAR of the magic 58 cutoff. The list doesn't likely jibe with the opinions of the voters. Of the following list, Larkin and Alomar are probably the only new players who will get significant support, while voters are likely to underrate Martinez and have already shown a propensity to overrate Jack Morris.
Of course, it's simplifying a bit to simply look at one number to determine a player's value. More useful, might be to look at how a player's career progressed. Below are a series of graphs which show a player's WAR sorted from his best year to worst year. From these graphs we can differentiate a player who had a strong peak, or a long career.
First let's take a look at the pitchers. Looking at Blyleven, Morris, and Appier together, it's no question that Blyleven is head and shoulders above the other two. While Appier's best seasons matched Blyleven's best, Blyleven showed incredible consistency, being nearly a 4 WAR player even in his 15th best season. In contrast, both Appier and Morris were pretty much useless in by their 12th best season.
Now let's take a look at the corner infielders. Through their best 13 seasons, Edgar Martinez was clearly the best of the field, besting the other in every year but two. After that, however, Martinez was a rather useless player, giving him a short but brilliant career. Michael Weddell here at Baseball Analysts went over the case for Martinez in detail yesterday and I largely agree. Still, I have the nagging feeling that Martinez doesn't "feel" like a Hall of Famer. However, this can simply be attributed to his toiling in Seattle for all those years, playing a non-defensive position, and most importantly, drawing a ton of walks - a skill which was undervalued at the time he played. Martinez may not feel like a Hall of Famer, but he is one. Moving on down, the graphs pretty clearly show McGwire as a better player than Ventura, and Ventura as a better player than McGriff. My "gut" says McGwire is a Hall of Famer and Ventura and McGriff are not, and my gut agrees with WAR. However, with McGwire only 5 WAR above the threshold, a case could be made not to include him, given his alleged steroid use.
Now, we'll go to the outfield, where we compare Dawson, Raines and Murphy. Dale Murphy had the peak of a Hall of Famer, but didn't have the rest of the career. In his best six years Murphy was right there with the Hawk and Rock, but he quickly fell to earth. While Murphy's peak was good, it's not good enough to compensate for just 44 career WAR when 58 WAR is the standard. In the stat-oriented blogosphere, there's been a fair amount of cheering on of Raines and bashing of Dawson, but they really are not too far apart. While I'll agree that Dawson is probably a bit over-rated by the mainstream and Raines is underrated, as players there's not a huge difference. Raines is slightly better, but not by a lot. If you factor in Dawson's considerable leadership, the difference becomes even closer. In my opinion, both players are worthy of induction.
In a final comparison, we'll go to the middle infield, and boy there is little to choose from. Alomar, Larkin, and Trammell all had pretty much the same career with respect to WAR. Larkin, with the overall most WAR, had a lower peak, but a more productive rest of his career. Between Trammell and Alomar, their paths are virtually indistinguishable. In the mainstream, the Alomar and Larkin are sure to get more love than Trammell has thus far. One factor in Alomar's favor is that he has a reputation as a great defensive player (including 10 Gold Gloves), despite the fact that WAR and other advanced metrics show his defense as average or below average. If you pay attention to the Gold Gloves rather than the stats, he'll be ahead of both Larkin and Trammell, and that's likely how he'll be percieved by the Hall of Fame voters. I think all three players are deserving of the Hall, though it wouldn't bother me terribly if none of them got in.
In a year with many and new borderline candidates, it will be interesting to see which directions the voters go in 2010. There are very few open and shut cases (and the one open and shut player is teetering on his 13th year of eligibility!), but there are a lot of maybes, should-bes, and could-bes in this year's crop of Hall of Fame contenders. I can't wait until January 6th to see how it all shakes down.