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.

Monday, January 14, 2008


The Loose Goose and the Pain for Raines

As you're no doubt aware, Rich Gossage got the call from the Hall last Tuesday, receiving 85.8 percent of the vote. He was the only candidate to gain entry this year. Jim Rice fell just 16 votes shy at 72.2 percent, followed by Andre Dawson (65.9 percent) and Bert Blyleven (61.9 percent). Tim Raines, the candidate I promoted most heavily, finished with a dismal 24.3 percent in his first year of eligibility.

I hosted a chat on Tuesday as the results were announced, and dissected the balloting in an article on Wednesday:
In anticipation of Raines not making it on his first try, I set about to find out what a strong first-year showing for an eventual enshrinee would look like. Using the Hall of Fame's website, I culled the year-by-year voting results back to 1966, when the BBWAA resumed annual balloting after a decade of biennial votes...

Since 1966, the BBWAA has elected 65 players to the Hall of Fame, including Gossage but not including Roberto Clemente, who was elected via a special process in March 1973, less than three months after his death, and Red Ruffing, who was elected in a 1967 runoff which the rules provided for in the case of the writers didn't grant any candidates 75 percent (only the winner of the runoff gained entry). Thirty-two of those 65 were members of one of the three milestone clubs: the 3,000 Hit Club, the 500 Home Run Club, and the 300 Win Club. Of those 32 "marked" players, only six didn't get in on the first ballot: Harmon Killebrew, Eddie Mathews, Gaylord Perry, Phil Niekro, Don Sutton, and Early Wynn. They took an average of 4.33 ballots to gain enshrinement. Only two marked players have thus far failed to gain enshrinement, Pete Rose (who received 41 write-in votes in 1992) and McGwire--a rather incredible precedent.

Of the 33 "unmarked" electees in that span, 10 gained entry on the first ballot... The remaining 23 candidates averaged 6.52 ballots; the distinction between ballots and years is necessary because five of these players, as well as the already-dismissed Ruffing, date back to the 1956-1966 biennial era.

Taking the 18 unmarked, non-first year, non-biennial candidates and the six marked, non-first year ones into consideration leaves us a pool of 24 enshrinees to study for clues as to what constitutes a good start to an eventual Hall of Fame election. It's not a huge sample, but it will have to do:
Yr    #  El    Wtd     Med
1 24 0 47.5% 51.2%
2 24 4 55.3% 58.4%
3 20 5 57.1% 60.0%
4 15 3 59.0% 62.4%
5 12 3 61.2% 66.6%
6 9 3 61.5% 65.0%
7 6 0 57.4% 62.6%
8 6 1 62.2% 58.5%
9 5 2 69.9% 67.0%
10 3 1 66.9% 71.3%
11 2 1 71.2% 73.0%
12 1 0 66.7% 66.7%
13 1 1 76.9% 76.9%
Wtd is the weighted percentage of votes received (based on the actual number of votes cast instead of the simple mean) and Med is the median percentage of votes received. Any way you look at it, Raines received about half the support level of a typical non-first ballot Hall of Famer. Since 1966, only Duke Snider (17.0 percent), Don Drysdale (21.0 percent), Billy Williams (23.4 percent), and Sutter (23.9 percent) have rallied from lower percentages, while Ralph Kiner (24.5 percent), Luis Aparicio (27.9 percent), and Early Wynn (27.9) weren't much better off. Even Gossage got just 33.3 percent his first time out.

As for Jim Rice, his near-miss 72.2 percent has been eclipsed only by four players who failed to gain enshrinement via that year's voting. Three of them -- Nellie Fox (74.7 percent), Jim Bunning (74.2 percent) and Orlando Cepeda (73.5 percent) -- got in via the Veterans Committee a few years later, while the aforementioned Ruffing got in via a runoff. Even with Rickey Henderson appearing on next year's ballot, Rice's eventual election is a virtual lock, which is a head-scratcher given how far below Raines and below the JAWS benchmarks he ranks.

My BP colleage Joe Sheehan did an excellent job of dismantling Rice's case both at BP and on ESPNews, the latter in which he double-teamed with ESPN Insider columnist and BP alum Keith Law. I only wish that he hadn't uncharacteristically pulled a punch in his article by failing to mention that the ESPN colleague and BBWAA writer who accused Neyer of spearheading an anti-Rice campaign was Peter Gammons, who said that Neyer was "obsessed with degrading Rice's career." While I've had my differences with Rob recently, I found nothing in his examinations of Rice's credentials to suggest his look at the evidence and the arguments that had been advanced on the candidate's behalf was biased. Gammons' statement was a thoroughly unprofessional grandstanding maneuver by one of the game's most powerful writers to try to bully and embarrass Neyer. Frankly, it was horseshit, but it was also sadly characteristic of Gammons' recent unprovoked swipes at some sabermetric straw man that's apparently haunting his offseason. Say it ain't so, Peter.

Sadly, the Raines/Rice vote discrepancy seems to provide the take-home message of this year's vote -- that advocacy using advanced metrics like WARP or Win Shares might somehow create a backlash among voters due to the uppity refusal of analysts to take their exalted word as gospel instead of thinking for ourselves. Mark Armour, in a provocative guest piece at Baseball Analysts, made a solid point about such efforts:
Another problem with the analytical arguments is that they are so… strident. The current message from the stat community to the Hall of Fame and its voters goes something like this: "Your institution is riddled with poor selections, and most of the current voting writers are morons. P.S. Please find enclosed my application to join your fine group." It's a bit like saying, "I don't like your wife, but if you have me over for dinner I can give her a few tips on her attitude."

Every time some poor writer released their Hall of Fame ballot last month, unless it had the "right" guys on it, the voter was deemed not smart enough, unthinking. I don’t really want to quote examples because I am in enough trouble already, but, trust me, if you voted for Jack Morris you were mocked.
While Mark, who had mentioned my JAWS work earlier in the piece, doesn't specifically point a finger at me at on the stridency charge, I must admit that there are times when that particular shoe fits -- though at least I've got the occasional excuse to go double-barrel -- and there are times I too gawk and groan in dismay at many of the published ballots. What else can I do? I've devoted a great deal of time to carving a niche in covering the Hall of Fame vote, all the while knowing that there's little chance in hell I'm ever going to get to partake in the process myself. For some of these writers to blithely dismiss certain candidates at the expense of others, or to simply not take their role in the process seriously, is an annual disappointment. As I wrote in my recent piece:
The obstinate and occasionally belligerent innumeracy publicly displayed by many a voter over the past few weeks remains the most frustrating aspect of the annual election cycle. For every analyst at the margins who offers a rational, factually-supported argument about the merits of a particular player's candidacy, there appear to be a dozen voters willing to fall back on the "I saw him play, you eggheads" argument accompanied by cherry-picked statistical measures and selectively applied standards. 'Twas ever thus, and so long as the Stonecutters, er, BBWAA keeps electing somebody so as to funnel a steady horde of tourists to Cooperstown every summer, the Hall of Fame has little incentive to get with the times by revamping its voting process. The best those of us who attempt to call attention to the "right" candidates can do is to persist with our educational efforts while hoping that younger, more open-minded writers gradually replace certain fossilized BBWAA members whose voting privileges apparently hinge on the unwillingness of that body to purge its rolls in accordance with its bylaws. Wait 'til next year, or the year after that, or the year after that...
In any event, while the election results weren't all that I'd hoped, I'm delighted to see JAWS and the Hall of Fame standards becoming a bigger part of the discussion. Onward and upwards, my friends.

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