Rating the 2015 Hall Candidates by Win Shares

Four players may be elected to Cooperstown this year: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio.

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.

  Win 2013 2013 2014 2014
Player Shares Votes Percent Votes Percent
Barry Bonds 661 206 36.2 198 34.7
Gary Sheffield 430        
Roger Clemens 421 214 37.6 202 35.4
Craig Biggio 411 388 68.2 427 74.8
Tim Raines 390 297 52.2 263 46.1
Jeff Bagwell 387 339 59.6 310 54.3
Mark McGwire 342 96 16.9 63 11
Jeff Kent 338     87 15.2
Fred McGriff 326 118 20.7 67 11.7
Randy Johnson 326        
Alan Trammell 318 141 24.3 119 20.8
Sammy Sosa 311 71 12.5 47 7.2
Mike Piazza 309 329 57.8 355 62.2
Larry Walker 307 123 21.6 58 10
Edgar Martinez 305 204 31.2 144 25.2
Carlos Delgado 303        
John Smoltz 289        
Brian Giles 287        
Mike Mussina 270     116 20.3
Don Mattingly 263 75 13.6 47 8.2
Pedro Martinez 256        
Curt Schilling 227 221 38.8 167 29.2
Nomar Garciaparra 219        
Lee Smith 198 272 47.8 171 29.9
Cliff Floyd 191        
Tom Gordon 179        
Rich Aurilia 177        
Jermaine Dye 175        
Darin Erstad 161        
Tony Clark 128        
Troy Percival 125        
Jason Schmidt 120        
Aaron Boone 111        
Eddie Guardado 100        

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
Player   Year Shares
Dave Winfield 2001 415
Kirby Puckett 2001 281
Ozzie Smith 2002 325
Gary Carter 2003 337
Eddie Murray 2003 437
Paul Molitor 2004 414
Dennis Eckersley 2004 301
Wade Boggs 2005 394
Ryne Sandberg 2005 346
Bruce Sutter 2006 168
Cal Ripken 2007 427
Tony Gwynn 2007 398
Goose Gossage 2008 223
Rickey Henderson 2009 535
Jim Rice 2009 282
Andre Dawson 2010 340
Roberto Alomar 2011 375
Bert Blyleven 2011 339
Barry Larkin 2012 347
Frank Thomas 2014 405
Greg Maddux 2014 398
Tom Glavine 2014 314
  Average   356

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:

Batters   OPS+   Starting Pitchers ERA+
Barry Bonds 182   Pedro Martinez 154
Mark McGwire 163   Roger Clemens 143
Jeff Bagwell 149   Randy Johnson 135
Edgar Martinez 147   Curt Schilling 127
Mike Piazza 143   John Smoltz 125
Larry Walker 141   Mike Mussina 123
Gary Sheffield 140   Jason Schmidt 110
Carlos Delgado 138        
Brian Giles 136   Relief Pitchers ERA+
Fred McGriff 134   Troy Percival 146
Sammy Sosa 128   Lee Smith 132
Don Mattingly 127   Tom Gordon 113
Nomar Garciaparra 124   Eddie Guardado 109
Tim Raines 123        
Jeff Kent 123        
Cliff Floyd 119        
Craig Biggio 112        
Tony Clark 112        
Jermaine Dye 111        
Alan Trammell 110        
Rich Aurilia 99        
Aaron Boone 94        
Darin Erstad 93        

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.

Conclusions:

1. Four players will be elected in 2015, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio.

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.

5. The incoming class in 2016 is not as strong as the last two – Ken Griffey, Jim Edmonds, Trevor Hoffman and Billy Wagner. This could provide an opportunity for some holdovers to get elected.

6. There will not be a groundswell of support for Rich Aurilia, Aaron Boone, Darin Erstad, Tom Gordon or Eddie Guardado, among others.

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).


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