The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

 

Hey, Chatter Chatter!

The BBWAA voting results for the Hall fo Fame were announced on Tuesday, and contrary to many a pundit's expectations, one man gained entry. Bruce Sutter garnered 76.9 percent of the vote to become just the fourth reliever elected to the Hall. Goose Gossage, whom I've argued has a much better case, received 64.6 percent of the vote up from 55.2 last year and low-40s support for four years prior.

Jim Rice finished with 64.8 percent, Andre Dawson with 61. Bert Blyleven, another pitcher I've been stumping for, got 53.3 percent, up from 40.8 last year and 35 two years ago.

As disappointed as I am that the writers tabbed the wrong guy, I'm heartened by the surge in support Gossage and Blyleven have received. Besides Gil Hodges and those mentioned above, everybody who's gotten 50 percent of the writer's vote has gained election eventually. Next year is stacked with Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken Jr., and Mark McGwire making their first appearances on the ballot, but 2008 offers "only" Tim Raines -- a personal favorite, but one who will need a Blyleven-type grassroots campaign to gain the vote. It's not too difficult to foresee Gossage slipping in on that timetable, unless he keeps shooting off his mouth about the results.

I hosted a chat on BP to chew on the results on Tuesday evening. The Hall was the prime topic, but it wasn't the only one. A few sample exchanges:
Nick Stone (NYC): To what degree does the selection of Bruce Sutter water-down HOF standards? Is his selection on par with some of the more egregious errors of the veterans committee? It would seem like this could open the doors to a flood of relievers. Or is this a time thing, the result of a weak ballot?

Jay Jaffe: It's tough to say that Sutter waters down the Hall standards for relievers, because with only three (or 2.5, if you account for the fact that Eckersley gets a big boost from the bulk stats of his career as a starter), there aren't really any standards yet. Sutter (49.9 JAWS) doesn't measure up to Fingers (61.4), to say nothing of Eckersley (87.1) or Wilhelm (70.3), that we know.

But there are a half-dozen pitchers with lower JAWS scores -- not a lot lower, but lower -- all elected by the VC, none of them relievers (Joss, Bender, Chesbro, Welch, Haines, Marquard). There are also eight hitters, all VC, with lower JAWS. S is this a travesty of that order? No.

I think Sutter's election is the result of a weak ballot, yes, and I do think it will open the gates to a trickle of relievers, not a flood. Gossage (64.6, up from 55.2 last year) will be in within a couple of years, I think. I don't see Lee Smith getting the same courtesy, nor John Franco. We may still be waiting for Mariano Rivera.

• • •

Brent (Raleigh): Do you agree that, from a PR standpoint, the best thing that could ever happen to an ex-player is to be right on the cusp of the HOF, but not quite? I mean, Gary Carter gets elected to the HOF and that basically does it for people reflecting about Gary Carter and his career. On the other hand, Burt Blyleven gets annual 1000-word articles written about him by sportswriters all over the country. Maybe being on the outside looking in isn't that bad...

Jay Jaffe: I disagree. Carter took six years to get voted in. I LOATHE Gary Carter, but never for a minute did I have a doubt while watching him play that he'd wind up in the Hall, and it sickens me to watch voters make players with his kind of credentials twist in the wind. He may not be foremost in the minds of the public now that he's in, but he's cast in bronze in upstate New York, and thousands of people get to read the words on his plaque every month.

I'm sure Blyleven would trade the thousand-word hosannas for votes and induction any day of the week. Not that the publicity isn't helping; he jumped to 53.3 percent this year from 40.8 last year and 35 two years ago.

• • •

dokomoy (Los Angeles): Has the HOF voters stupidity over the years cost the Hall any credibility? If so beyond making me the Final arbitrator of who gets in, what can be done to fix it?

Jay Jaffe: As I've said before, the BBWAA rarely gets it wrong in terms of electing somebody who's NOT worthy (Sutter's not their best choice, though). They generally err on the side of keeping reasonably worthy players out, leaving them for the Vet Committee to sweep up. The VC is where the problem has lain for a long, long time -- electing the wrong brother (Rick Ferrell, Lloyd Waner) or their cronies. Per JAWS, the 24 worst hitters in the hall and 13 of the worst 14 pitchers were VC selections.

Does that compromise their credibility? You'd think so, but the mainstream public seems to take the Hall at face value. As to what can be done, I think you're seeing it. You've got dozens of eloquent and largely web-based writers advocating for Blyleven and Gossage, and as a result, their vote totals have risen markedly over the last few years. the goal of JAWS is to identify and promote above-average HOF candidates so as to raise the standards of the elected. Is it having any impact? Not by itself, but I think it fits in well with the rest of what's going on online.

I think there's a generation of writers to whom any sabermetric evaluation of the Hall is lost. But the guys who are working their way towards that 10-year status which gets them a vote will be more receptive to seeing things in a different light. That won't undo the mistakes of the past, but may right a few wrongs, and make mistakes less likely.
There's plenty of non-Hall stuff to be had among my answers as well. Dodgers and Yankees and Angels.. and Red Sox and Brewers and Padres, oh my! Check it out.

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