Cue the JAWS theme. We've known this day was coming for years, the day when the first of baseball's steroid-fueled sluggers would reach the Hall of Fame ballot, when claims to immortality would clash with charges of immorality. With Jose Canseco and the late Ken Caminiti on the ballot for the first time, we've got the juiced era's canaries in the coalmine, two outspoken players who broke the code of the locker room and admitted to their own usage of performance-enhancing drugs while offering chilling estimates of their ubiquity. In Mark McGwire, we have the most widely-suspected player this side of Barry Bonds, one whose thrilling accomplishments may be tarnished by the means he used to achieve them, and whose candidacy may serve as a cautionary tale for those who follow him.In the first of three installments, I cover the first basemen, third basemen, and shortstops. Plenty of space is devoted to the steroid issue in the contect of both McGwire and Caminiti's candidacies (hence the Howard Bryant book in the pile). I had forgotten how pitch-black the latter's story was.
This is the fourth year I've used the very self-consciously named Jaffe WARP Score system (JAWS) to examine the Hall of Fame ballot. The goal of JAWS is to identify candidates on the Hall ballot who are as good or better than the average Hall of Famer at their position, a bar set so as to avoid further diluting the quality of the institution's membership. Clay Davenport's Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP) totals are the coin of the realm for this endeavor because they normalize all performance records in major-league history to the same scoring environment, adjusting for park effects, quality of competition and length of schedule. Pitchers, hitters and fielders are thus rated above or below one consistent replacement level, making cross-era comparisons a breeze.
JAWS does not include non-statistical considerations--awards, championships, postseason performance, rap sheet, urine test results--but that's not to say they should be left by the wayside. They're just not the focus here. While I'll discuss the 800-pound elephant in the room in the context of various candidacies, I don't claim to have a solution as to how voters or fans should handle the dawn of this new era. That's an emotional issue, and JAWS isn't designed to handle emotions.
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