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, January 22, 2009


Pattern Recognition

After a week and a half of laying low following the delivery of my final Baseball Prospectus annual essays and JAWS pieces, I've re-emerged with both an article and a chat. Today's piece at BP focuses on last week's Hall of Fame voting results and their underlying patterns. After noting that Jim Rice made history by becoming the first player ever voted in on his 15th and final ballot, I noted how rarely late-eligibility elections occur:
Beyond the fact that Rice made it in his final turn at bat, it's worth noting how uncommon it actually is for any candidate to win the requisite 75 percent after lasting for more than about five years on the ballot. Since 1966:
Years    #   Elected
15 33 1 Rice (2009)
14 37 0
13 39 2 Ralph Kiner (1975), Bruce Sutter (2006)
12 43 1 Bob Lemon (1976)
11 45 1 Duke Snider (1980)
10 52 1 Don Drysdale (1984)
9 62 4 Joe Medwick (1968), Lou Boudreau (1970),
Tony Perez (2000), Rich Gossage (2008)
8 68 1 Hoyt Wilhelm (1985)
7 72 0
6 84 3
5 96 4
4 107 3
3 124 5
2 175 4
1 629 37
Basically, a candidate who lingers on the ballot for longer than five years has about half the chance of being elected as someone who gains entry in his first five years of eligibility:
Years     #  Elect   %
1-5 1131 53 4.7
6-10 338 9 2.7
11-15 197 5 2.5
Further down, I've got my own prescription for reforming the voting process:
Elsewhere on BP, [Joe] Sheehan advocated a one-and-done approach to the BBWAA voting. While I do think that there's ample room for reform, particularly in light of the data above, subjecting the candidates to a single in/out vote seems to me an awful idea given the obstinacy of a portion of the electorate, to say nothing of the sorry state of the Veterans Committee. Certain voters love to parade their ignorance of any approach beyond Ye Olde Pornography Test ("I know a Hall of Famer when I see one"), and many others could stand to research the candidates much more thoroughly before delivering a potentially fatal blow to the chances of the likes of Bobby Grich, Lou Whitaker, Darrell Evans, and Dan Quisenberry, all of whom fell off the ballot after one vote because they failed to garner five percent.

Instead of making this a one-shot deal, I'd advocate shortening a player's term on the ballot to three years—three strikes and you're out, get it?—with no minimum five percent cutoff. The portion of the electorate that feels strongly enough about the distinction between "first ballot" types and the rest of the field would still have that avenue available to them, but the process would be considerably sped up, and the field simplified.

Of course, I'd also like to see the BBWAA voting rules reformed to allow the new wave of internet writers — including my BP colleagues Will Carroll and Christina Kahrl as well as ESPN's Rob Neyer and Keith Law — their voting privileges before the ten-year waiting period is up. While there's more than a little self-interest with regards to that statement — I'm extremely hopeful that one day I might join those ranks myself — the bottom line is that those of us who have come around to any kind of sabermetric approach to the Hall want to see a better-educated electorate tackling the ballot so that the game's highest honor may be more uniformly bestowed upon the most deserving candidates. Is that so wrong?
That Will, Christina, Keith and Rob all were granted entry to the BBWAA [Baseball Writers Association of America] is the long-lost bit of news that I alluded to back in early December when the story broke, but I never got around to discussing here. I'm elated for all parties involved; Neyer and Law were snubbed a year earlier in what became an ugly PR disaster for the BBWAA, as numerous other Internet-based writers, including several of Neyer and Law's ESPN colleagues, gained entry. The BBWAA had been exclusive to print-based publications prior to that point, but with the realities of the newspaper industry becoming grimmer by the day, the organization finally saw the light on that front. What it all means is that if I continue long enough with BP I too may gain membership, which, assuming I could then hang on long enough, would make me eligible to vote in the Hall of Fame balloting around the time the AARP starts taking an interest in my life — hence the bit of self-interest in picking up the damn pace.

I'll be back to slice and dice the chat in my next post...

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