One of the first items of business in baseball each year is the announcement of players elected to the Hall of Fame. This leads to lots of speculation and a little analysis prior to the announcement which is scheduled for January 6, 2015.
Many systems exist for evaluating player performance. One such system, the Win Shares method, developed by Bill James in 2002, is a complex method for evaluating players which includes all aspects of performance – offense, defense and pitching. James has stated that, “Historically, 400 Win Shares means absolute enshrinement in the Hall of Fame and 300 Win Shares makes a player more likely than not to be a Hall of Famer. However, future standards may be different. Players with 300-350 Win Shares in the past have generally gone into the Hall of Fame. In the future, they more often will not”.
The 2015 class of Hall of Fame candidates consists of 17 holdovers and 17 players eligible for the first time. Thirteen holdovers have over 300 Win Shares, Barry Bonds with 661, Roger Clemens 421, Craig Biggio 411, Tim Raines 390, Jeff Bagwell 387, Mark McGwire 342, Fred McGriff 326, Alan Trammell 318, Sammy Sosa 311, Mike Piazza 309, Larry Walker 307 and Edgar Martinez 305. Three newcomers have over 300 Win Shares, Gary Sheffield 430, Randy Johnson 326 and Carlos Delgado 303.
In 2014, three players received the necessary 75% of the vote for election by the Baseball Writers of America (BBWAA), Greg Maddux (97.2%), Tom Glavine (91.9%) and Frank Thomas (83.7%).. The 2014 ballot included 19 newcomers and 17 returning candidates. Other than the three players elected, only two others, Mike Mussina (20.3%) and Jeff Kent (15.2%) received the necessary 5% of the votes required to remain on the ballot. Rafael Palmeiro with 569 home runs and 3020 hits dropped off the ballot in his 4th year with only 4.4% of the votes. Jack Morris (61.5%) dropped off the ballot after failing to win election for 15 years.
With the relatively strong incoming class last year, only Craig Biggio (74.8%) and Mike Piazza (62.2%) received more votes than in the previous year. Biggio missed being elected by just two votes. With another strong, incoming class this year, predicting the results is more difficult than usual and holdovers will have a hard time picking up more votes.
Several players on the ballot have the numbers to be elected but remain tainted with the steroid cloud. Many voters are likely to wait until more is known about the extent of steroid usage before giving them a pass. This, along with the number of strong newcomers on the ballot the last two years has resulted in the ballot becoming quite crowded. A total of 571 ballots were submitted last year and each voter could vote for up to 10 players. Over the years, voters have typically voted for 5 or 6 candidates but last year they voted for an average of 8.4. This increase is likely to continue since there at least 20 candidates on the ballot for which a reasonable case can be made for induction.
The Hall has made one significant change in the voting since last year. Players will now only be kept on the ballot for 10 years rather than 15 years. The immediate impact is that 3 players who have been on the ballot for more than 10 years, Don Mattingly (15 years), Allen Trammell (14 years) and Lee Smith (13 years) will be removed from the ballot next year if they fail to receive 75% of the vote. None of them have been close in the past.
Earlier this year, a panel of Hall of Fame players, sportswriters and baseball executives voted on a group of ten players and executives from the “Golden Era”. All ten candidates had strong credentials but none received 75% of the vote. I was disappointed that two of my boyhood favorites, Gil Hodges and Minnie Minoso and my late good friend, Bob Howsam failed to get elected.
Following is a list of Win Shares for the 34 players on the ballot. Players on the ballot for the first time are shown in bold. Voting results for 2013 and 2014 are shown for the holdovers.
The 22 players elected by the Baseball Writers since 2000 have averaged 356 Win Shares, a figure exceeded by six players on this year’s ballot.
Win Shares are fundamentally a quantitative measure of a player’s accomplishments. A measure of the quality of a player’s offensive performance is OPS+ which compares his OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging average) adjusted for park effects and era with the league average during his career. An OPS+ of 120 suggests that his performance is 20% better than that of a league average player. A similar approach (ERA+) can be used to compare a pitcher’s ERA against the league average during his career.
Following is a rank order of OPS+ and ERA+ for the 34 candidates on the 2015 ballot:
The Win Shares system favors players with long productive careers like Sheffield, Raines and Biggio, although it appears to under-rate pitchers, while OPS+ rewards strong offensive players who had shorter, more dominant careers like Martinez and Mattingly. ERA+ favors relief pitchers since their ERAs are generally lower because they are not charged with runs scored by inherited runners.
2. Mattingly, Trammell and Smith will fail to win election in their final year on the BBWAA ballot.
3. Bagwell, Piazza, Raines and Schilling will move up but will fall short of 75%.
4. While the 2015 class is very strong at the top, it is weak at the bottom. As many as 10 newcomers may not receive even one vote. Five or six newcomers should receive enough votes to remain on the ballot.
If I had a ballot, I would cast votes for Johnson, Martinez, Smoltz, Biggio, Bagwell, Piazza, Raines, Schilling, Trammell and Mussina.
Bill Gilbert is a baseball analyst and writer and member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).