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 07, 2010

 

All Hall, All the Time

Wow, now that was an unintended hiatus — thirty days since my last blog post here at Futility Infielder. Needless to say, I've been plenty busy over the past month, even cobbling away at my winter work during a 10-day trip to Mexico in honor of my 40th birthday. After completing my work for the Baseball Prospectus 2010 annual and the Fantasy Baseball Index, I'm back in circulation. Aside from those responsibilities and my random Twitter activity, I've primarily been occupied with the Hall of Fame vote via my annual JAWS series:

• Part one examined the first and second basemen on the ballot, including the Crime Dog, the Big Cat, Big Mac and Roberto Alomar.

• Part two examined the shortstops and third basemen on the ballot, including Barry Larkin, Alan Trammell, Robin Ventura and Edgar Martinez, who played third before migrating to his natural home as a designated hitter.

• Part three examined the outfielders, including Tim Raines and Andre Dawson.

• Part four, published mere hours before the voting results were announced, covered the pitchers, including Bert Blyleven and Jack Morris.

The four-part series identified seven players as worthy of election to the Hall (Alomar, Blyleven, Larkin, Martinez, McGwire, Raines and Trammell) but as I conceded in the conclusion of the finale, I wasn't at all surprised when that slate was shut out and Dawson gained entry; in fact, it's exactly what I predicted. Today's addendum to the series breaks down the actual voting results:
The announcement of Dawson's election was overshadowed in some circles by two near-misses that were shocking for entirely opposite reasons. Stathead pet candidate Blyleven, in his 13th year on the ballot, moved up from receiving just over 60 percent in the last two years to 74.2 percent, a mere five votes short of enshrinement. Alomar, in his first year on the ballot, received 73.7 percent, falling just eight votes shy of the magic number.

Whether the latter is due to the collective grudge still held by certain writers over the infamous 1996 incident in which Alomar spit in the face of umpire John Hirschbeck—an impulsive, unpremeditated act for which Hirschbeck has not only forgiven Alomar but gone on to befriend and defend him as the two have worked together to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote awareness of the genetic disorder which claimed the life of the ump's son—or due to the BBWAA's more generalized institutional politics, which create a hair-splitting artificial distinction between first-ballot Hall of Famers and the rest, is unclear. Likely the incident had direct bearing on some voters' willingness to invoke that first-ballot distinction.

In any event, it's highly likely that a year from now, Alomar will gain induction. He received the highest-ever vote percentage of any first-year player not elected; in fact, since the BBWAA switched back to an annual vote in 1966, no player has ever polled above 43 percent on his first ballot and not eventually won election from the BBWAA. Furthermore, no player has ever polled above 64 percent and not eventually gained induction by either the BBWAA or Veterans Committee routes, which means Blyleven is practically sitting in the catbird seat, too. The Hall of Fame might as well start casting both plaques now. Particularly since next year's class,, which is headed by Jeff Bagwell, Rafael Palmeiro, John Olerud, Kevin Brown, and Larry Walker, isn't terribly strong, and the following year's class is as thin as prison gruel. As I joked in Wednesday's chat, there may not be five players worthy of more than a paragraph in my annual JAWS rundown, and Bernie Williams is easily the top candidate on the ballot, but far from a slam dunk.

In any event, it's the first time in Hall history that two players on the same ballot missed by fewer than 10 votes. Blyleven's five-vote shortfall was the fifth-smallest in history, and the sting of the near-miss was amplified by the news that the 539-vote tally included five blank ballots, cast either as a protest or as evidence of an ongoing midlife crisis. Each of those five blank ballots thus required three votes in favor of a given candidate to offset. Had that ignominious quintet gotten lost on the way to the mailbox, Blyleven would have still fallen a stitch short with 74.9 percent of the vote; in this game they don't round up. In fact, he needed the support of all of them, at least one of whom publicly declared during his supermarket-aisle meltdown that he had voted for the pitcher last year.
As agonizing as the near-misses were, I'm optimistic that both Blyleven and Alomar are on track for next year. Furthermore, I think there's hope for Raines and Martinez:
Among the holdovers, Tim Raines (30.4 percent in his third year) received nearly an eight percent bump, a showing that's at least somewhat encouraging. Sutter (29.1 percent), Duke Snider (21.2 percent), and Luis Aparicio (12.0 percent) all received less during their third years of eligibility and still eventually got the call, with the latter representing the biggest comeback of any candidate to gain BBWAA entry. Mark McGwire (23.7 percent in his fourth year), rose nearly two percent from last year and set a personal best by 0.1 percent, but with more than three-quarters of the electorate giving him the cold shoulder over steroid allegations or simply his continued unwillingness to talk about the past, he's going nowhere.

Besides Larkin and Alomar, only two other first-year candidates received above five percent, the showing needed to remain on the ballot for another year. Edgar Martinez got 36.2 percent, and Fred McGriff received 21.5 percent. While those showings may disappoint their supporters, rallying from this point is hardly unprecedented. Consider the less-than-stellar debuts of these 11, all of whom eventually earned the requisite 75 percent:
Player             %
Gary Carter 42.3%
Hoyt Wilhelm 41.7%
Rich Gossage 33.3%
Eddie Mathews 32.3%
Jim Rice 29.8%
Early Wynn 27.9%
Luis Aparicio 27.8%
Bruce Sutter 23.9%
Billy Williams 23.4%
Don Drysdale 21.0%
Duke Snider 17.0%
Onto a few choice questions from the chat:
dianagramr (NYC): Hi Jay ... thanks for the chat. Is Edgar Martinez's run creation in the ballpark with Jim Rice's, when you take into account Rice's subpar defense in LF? In other words, how much better must a DH be in order to make the Hall, assuming voters take defense into account?

JJ: If Edgar's overall production WERE the ballpark, Jim Rice's overall production would be stuck in the breakdown lane 50 miles away. It ain't even close. Edgar accumulated double Rice's WARP over the course of his career (68.9 to 34.2) and about 2.5 wins more per year at his peak. (46.4 to 28.5). I can't tell you if that will be enough for the voters because there really isn't much evidence to suggest voters DO take defense into account at all, or even that some of them think rationally about the process.

Christina Kahrl (BP Volcano Hideout): Five blank ballots were submitted, apparently. While I can understand that more readily than ballots that have Morris but not Blyleven or Dawson or Parker but not Raines, that seems interesting.

JJ: Blank ballots are voters' way of throwing themselves on the ground in the middle of the produce aisle and hoping mommy notices.

Especially given that Mariotti was one of the guys who voted for Blyleven in the past.

Nick Stone (New York, NY): Jay, since I'll be under a pile of work when the HoF announcement is made, I've tried to come up with a question that will cover every conceivable issue raised by the results: What does the (election/stagnant support/dropping off the ballot) of (Andre Dawson/Bert Blyleven/David Segui) say about the BBWAA's general attitude towards (impatient mustache aficionados/Dutch Old Masters/ill-considered bleach jobs)? Does the dramatic falling off of the ballot of (Karros/Raines/McGwire) mean baseball will change the composition of the Veterans Committee in order to better represent (the undead/people with a basic understanding of baseball/chicks who dig the long ball)?

JJ: Too funny! I definitely think that the disappearance of Segui from the ballot is a shot across the bow at those ill-considered bleach jobs, and that the road to the Hall just got considerably longer for Mike Piazza, Alex Rodriguez, and Bret Boone. The disappearance of Karros from the ballot means that the VC will be changed to better accommodate the undead.

Bern Wang (bernwang@hotmail.com): I doubt Bernie Williams will ever get in to the HOF since he was usually overlooked on those Yankee teams (never finished high in MVP voting) and so he won't "seem" like a HOF to many of these voters...but do you think he has a decent case? He had maybe 8 great years in a row and was quite possibly the most valuable player on those Yankee teams from 1994 through 2002. At the very least, I guess with Jim Rice being in, Bernie definitely has a legit case for being in as well since he was clearly better than Jim Rice.

JJ: Bernie's got four more World Series rings than Jim Rice, and the rest of his candidacy is hardly anything to be ashamed of. You'd be surprised what hitting .300 and playing center field for the World Champion Yankees can do for a guy's Cooperstown credentials. Not that it helped Mickey Rivers...
And if that ain't enough on the topic, I recorded a Baseball Prospectus Radio segment with Will Carroll today which you can hear here, via BP's home page, or via iTunes (subscribe to the Baseball Prospectus podcast).

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