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.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

 

From the Bunker

Yes, I'm still alive. My social life has been reduced to an afterthought. Mealtimes last 20 minutes if I'm alone, maybe 22 minutes if my wife is around (she's a saint, and she understands what this time of year means for me). My apartment looks like a used bookstore after an earthquake hit, with a pile of reference books -- Baseball Prospectus 2006, The ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia, The Bill James Handbook 2007, The Harbdall Times Baseball Annual 2007, Juicing the Game -- splayed open and forming an imposing gauntlet as if to protect me from the encroaching world outside. Or perhaps to prevent me from escaping. My editors, all of whom have already crossed me off of their Christmas card lists, would be happy either way.

In between the 17 other projects I'm working on this winter, I found time in the wee hours to crank up the JAWS system to examine this year's Hall of Fame ballot for Baseball Prospectus:
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.

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.
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.

Anyway, against all of the decidedly un-fun stuff, the fun of the ballot thus far has come from examining Cal Ripken, Jr.'s career. For those of you who viewed Ripken as an overrated product of The Streak, you'll be very surprised to see how he stacks up. I'll have a follow-up on Ripken soon over at BP's new blog, Unfiltered.

And yeah, I'd love to spill a few thousand words on the Winter Meetings and everything that's transpired this month (welcome back, Andy Pettitte! Bon voyage, Eric Gagne...). Trust me, I am, just not here. Until next time...

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