Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The 2006 Hall of Fame Ballot

Here we go again. The most recent Hall of Fame ballot has been released, and voters are even now pondering who should be elected. As always, I have some strong opinions on the matter.

This year, the wrinkle is that none of the new guys on the ballot are really expected to get much support. I mean, you can make a nice case for Will Clark, and he’s much better than Don Mattingly or Steve Garvey, two returning candidates who regularly get more votes than they deserve, but I have no expectation that Clark will actually get elected. And neither should Clark. If he’s lucky, he’ll get Mattingly-level support and build from there, but that’s probably the best any of the new guys can hope for. I’d vote for a couple of them, as you’ll see shortly, but none of these guys are going to be elected anytime soon.

That leaves the returning candidates as the only hope for induction this year. Since the voters can’t stand letting a year go by without electing someone, I think one or more of these guys will get in. Specifically, I think Bruce Sutter will be elected, though he shouldn’t, and Rich Gossage will also go in, which he should. Sutter is the closest to election based on last year’s vote totals, so simple math will get him there, while Gossage will probably garner extra votes from Sutter supporters who will suddenly realize how moronic it is to elect Sutter while Gossage, a considerably better pitcher, wastes away on the same ballot. The next-closest guy will be Jim Rice, followed closely by Andre Dawson. More on them in a moment.

For now, let me make it perfectly clear why Bruce Sutter doesn’t deserve induction. I have said repeatedly in the past that Sutter was nearly interchangeable with Dan Quisenberry in terms of results. In fact, Quiz was arguably better in some respects. For instance, Sutter lost 25 more games than Quiz even though he pitched in 13 fewer career games. Sutter’s career winning percentage was just .489, while Quiz’s was .549. Sutter had a career ERA of 2.83, slightly higher than Quisenberry’s mark of 2.76 even though he pitched in leagues that averaged a 3.85 ERA while Quiz pitched in leagues that averaged 4.04. In short, once adjusted for their home ballparks, Quiz’s ERA was 46% better than his leagues while Sutter’s was just 36% better.

They threw the same number of innings, they allowed the same number of baserunners per inning, they led their leagues in saves the same number of times, and so on, and so on. Other than Sutter’s style being more conducive to strikeouts, they were essentially the same pitcher, only Quiz had some distinct advantages as noted above. So, since the voters decided that Quiz should only get 18 Hall of Fame votes, why in the world does Sutter get 300? It makes no sense to me. I’d vote for Quiz over Sutter any day if he was still on the ballot, but truthfully I wouldn’t vote for him either because his career was just too short. So Sutter, who may be the only guy elected this year, doesn’t get my vote.

Here’s who would:
  • Alan Trammell
  • Bert Blyleven
  • Rich Gossage
  • Jim Rice
  • Dale Murphy
  • Will Clark
  • Albert Belle
  • Andre Dawson

Probably in that order. Here’s why.

Alan Trammell. I've made his case before in more detail. With almost no fanfare of any kind, Alan Trammell compiled a career that puts him easily in the top-10 shortstops of all time.

Bert Blyleven. I waffled back and forth on this guy for a long time, and now I have no idea why. This guy is clearly one of the top 20 to 30 pitchers in the history of baseball.

Rich Gossage. This one is easy, being another subject I've covered in more depth in the past.. He’s the best relief pitcher. Ever.

Jim Rice. I don’t know what more to say about this guy. The Red Sox published a lengthy analysis of Rice’s career this year and distributed it to the voters, and after reading it I’ve come to the conclusion that I had written every word of it in various online articles over the past five years.

Dale Murphy. I changed my mind on this guy based on the peak value of his career. Clay Davenport of The Baseball Prospectus published a series of articles late last year that presented a system for determining an objective Hall of Fame built upon Baseball Prospectus’ WARP3 stat. The system is a bit flawed (it had Wade Boggs as the top-rated third baseman ever), but it did open my eyes about the peak values of some players. Murphy was one of those. His peak was essentially in the top-10 of all time among center fielders. That was enough for me.

Will Clark. Much like Trammell, Clark is vastly underrated. His career numbers were terribly suppressed by his ballpark and the fact that he began his career during one of the lowest run-scoring periods since the end of World War II. For instance, Clark’s 1989 season was a thing of beauty, He hit .333, had a .407 on-base percentage, and slugged .546, and he did all of this despite playing in a league where each team averaged less than four runs per game and played in a park that suppressed runs by almost 8%. And that was an improvement over Clark’s first three seasons, when Candlestick Park suppressed scoring by 11%, 11% and 13% respectively. Consequently, Clark’s OPS+, which adjusts OPS for his park and the league’s overall scoring, was 175 in 1989, meaning it was 75% above the league average. To put that in perspective, Eddie Murray’s best season was 1990, when he posted an OPS+ of 159. Murray posted seven seasons with an OPS+ of 140 or greater. Clark also had seven seasons at that level, despite playing six fewer years than Murray. Clark’s career mark was 138 to Murray’s 129. Clark’s mark was also higher than Orlando Cepeda (133), and Tony Perez (122), and George Sisler (124), and Frank Chance (135), and Billy Terry (136), and Jake Beckley (125), and George Kelly (110), and Jim Bottomley (125), all Hall of Fame first basemen, not to mention other iron-clad Hall of Famers like Yogi Berra (125), Johnny Bench (126), Charlie Gehringer (124), Jackie Robinson (132), Joe Morgan (132), Rod Carew (132), George Brett (135), Wade Boggs (130), Ernie Banks (122), Robin Yount (115), Al Simmons (132), Roberto Clemente (130), Al Kaline (134), Billy Williams (132), and Carl Yastrzemski (130).

Albert Belle. A world-class jerk. A cheater (long live corked bats). A fragile hip condition resulting in a short career. But one of the most destructive hitters in recent memory. Remember Clark’s career OPS+ mark of 139? Well, Belle’s was 143. That number is too big to ignore.

Andre Dawson. A close call for me again, but ultimately I still support him because there are so many crappy right fielders in the Hall of Fame. Take the bottom eight or ten guys out of the Hall, and I probably wouldn’t support Dawson. But they’re in there, and he’s clearly better than they are, so it just doesn’t seem fair to keep him out.

That's who I would vote for. I reality, I think Sutter and Gossage will get in. I think Rice is a pick 'em for induction, receiving a boost from a weak ballot, the Red Sox public relations machine, and from the anti-steroids argument that makes his era of players look better to the voters. Here’s hoping all of that is enough.

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