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    Tuesday, January 14, 2014

    Another Look at Predicting Hall of Fame Hitters

    As some of you may remember, last year I took a look at the active players who were, in one sense, on track to join the Hall of Fame. I wanted to update it with the players from last year, but after looking at it in retrospect, there were a few things I needed to fix. The biggest issue was that, when gathering the historic data, I only went back to 1901. This time, I included all years in the Play Index search. This ended up pushing the median Wins Above Replacement higher than last year, which led to interesting results on the prediction angle.

    First, though, a quick summary of what I did for those who didn’t see last year’s article: I looked at the Hall of Fame hitters and their career Wins Above Replacement through each age from 20 through 35 (last year, I only went to 30). In each set, I picked the median career value. Then, I looked at how many hitters in history had been worth that much through those ages, Hall of Fame or not. I removed players currently on the BBWAA ballot, since they’re still up in the air, then found a simple percentage of how many players at the Hall median for the age would go on to Cooperstown.

    For example, take the age of 20. Of the 60 Hall of Famers who had played games through their age 20 seasons, the median value provided was 0.45 WAR. Therefore, 30 Hall of Famers were above that. 90 Players not in the Hall have matched that mark, with 1 of them being on the ballot this year. That works out to 25.21% of 20-year old players who were at the Hall median eventually making the Hall of Fame.

    There are still some issues with this. The two biggest are related. Mostly, this doesn’t account for deserving players not in the Hall. One that sticks out in my mind is Ted Simmons; I remember seeing him consistently above the median, and he’s definitely better than half of the catchers in the Hall, but as is, he’s just not in.

    However (the second problem) is that this also doesn’t account for future Veterans Committee picks. For example, Simmons may one day get his induction; right now, though, it just doesn’t factor in. Either way, these numbers would be underselling the likeliness of future election in both cases.

    At the low end, there’s also the issue of incomplete information (since not all players debut at the same age), but there isn’t much that can be done with that. Also, I’m just going by what has historically happened, not counting stuff like all the protest nonsense, steroid-moralizing, and whatever else has been going on the last few ballots.

    Anyway, on to the numbers. Below, in order are the Ages, the median WARs (from Baseball-Reference), the number of Hall of Famers at that mark, the number of non-Hall of Famers, the number on the ballot still, and finally, the resulting percentage that have made the Hall.

    Median WAR
    # HOF at median WAR
    # Non HOF at median
    # non HOF still on ballot
    % in HOF

    First: some thoughts on these numbers. The growth in WAR is a lot slower than I would have thought. Everyone always thinks of Hall of Famers putting up Willie Mays-type 10 Win seasons, but to match the median, one would need only two seasons above the 5-win All Star mark (plus another at 4.9). Part of this is that we’re dealing with the median, and not all Hall of Famers are Willie Mays. They definitely don’t all have their peaks at the same age. It all sort of levels out. Really, you just need to have had a big season by the 27/28 mark, or you really start to fall behind the pace.

    Second, like last year, the percentage of certainty is much higher much earlier than you would think. I mean, half of the players at the median by only 25 will probably go into the Hall of Fame. By the time players hit their 30s, we’re at a 75% level of certainty. Those milestones sneak up on you much quicker than you would think. It’s also interesting that it seems to level off a little over 75%. With that, let’s look at who in baseball is at these marks

    20: 0.45 WAR, 25.21%

    We had two players coming off their age-20 season at this mark, and both shot past it. Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper is still only 20 and is already at 9.0, while Orioles third baseman/future shortstop Manny Machado stands at 8.1. Seeing as both are already passed the age-23 marker, they probably already fall at over 50% likeliness. These are only a precursor to the strong crop of young stars in the game right now.

    I also kept track of near misses as well, of which there were two for age-20s. Marlins young ace Jose Fernandez hilariously fell only 0.05 short in his offensive WAR (more to come on the pitching side soon hopefully, but I’d bet he crossed that mark as well). Meanwhile, late Red Sox call-up Xander Bogaerts got 0.3 Wins in his late debut. Look for him to make the age-21 list next year.

    21: 2.15 WAR, 34.04%
    Angels center fielder Mike Trout actually leads all age groups under 25 in career WAR, with 20.8 already. Seeing as he’s already over the age-26 mark, I’d guess offhand that his odds are already probably over 80%. If you look hard enough, there are always new ways to appreciate Mike Trout.

    Another Marlin comes in the near-miss category: in 62 games, left fielder Christian Yelich managed 1.4 WAR. For as bad as Miami looks, they may have something there soon.

    22: 4.3 WAR, 36.31%
    Rookie of the Year runner up Yasiel Puig put up a 5.0 WAR season last year for the Dodgers. It’s not quite the buffer that Harper, Machado, or Trout has, but he has had less of a head start than any of them. Love him or hate him, he’s definitely one to watch.

    22 also saw one of only three players to fall below the cutoff based on my revised numbers. With 3.9 WAR, Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado would have matched my old median. If he hadn’t spent a month or so in the minors, he probably would have gotten the little bit he needed. I’ve wanted to write about Arenado for a while now, and just haven’t found the space to do so; I think he’s one of the most exciting (and unheralded) young players in the game. A lot of his value comes from his fielding, but all fielding metrics (and the Gold Glove, for whatever that’s worth) seem to agree that he’s really good at it. I would say that he passes the eye test on that front as well (I could watch his plays all day). He reminds me a bit of Scott Rolen; I’m definitely excited to see where he goes from here.

    Then, there are the midseason call-ups. Mariners second baseman Nick Franklin managed 2.3 WAR in just over 100 games, although with arrival of a certain someone, I’d imagine he’s either destined for another team or another position. Then, there’s AL Rookie of the Year and Rays outfielder Wil Myers, who played only 88 games but managed 2 wins in that time. The jump from the 22 median to the 23 median is big, but they could manage it. If not this year, then they could make it up in the long run.

    23: 7.95 WAR, 43.79%
    The age-23 plateau was absolutely overflowing with talent this past season, most of it coming from the Braves. Leading the way is right fielder Jason Heyward. In four seasons, he’s managed 18.4 Wins, despite his 2014 being one of the most snake-bitten campaigns that I can remember-both the baseball gods (his batting average on balls in play went down despite an uptick in his line drives) and his own body (appendicitis) turned against him, yet he still turned in an above-average year (3.6 wins in only 104 games).

    Standing with him above the rest of the crowd is his fellow NL East right fielder Giancarlo Stanton. Like Heyward, Stanton ran in to some injury problems this season. However, he has already amassed 14.8 WAR (and 117 home runs, which still blows me away), which is still more than enough to make this list.

    After that is a quartet of young stars who fall a little further down on the list. Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie is first. Like those two, he had injury problems this year. I’m not sure what to think about his inclusion here. While he does have 10.2 WAR, a lot of it comes from defense, but unlike Arenado, fielding metrics are much less unanimous. While Baseball-Reference rates him on an above-average-to-all-star level, Fangraphs usually pegs him at just an normal starter. I’ve seen plenty of arguments that his high fielding score on B-R comes from the Blue Jays shift, which would explain the large difference. I think it’s worth waiting for more information on his case.

    Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons, with 9.6 WAR, is another case that hinges on defense. Like Arenado, though, every system agrees that he was excellent; the question is more a matter of degree. If he can hit closer to he did in 2012 than 2013 going forward, he can easily continue to make this list.

    His teammate, first baseman Freddie Freeman, is rated at 9.2 WAR after a breakout 2013. And finally, Royals catcher Salvador Perez, who also had a breakout season this year, carries 8.6 WAR in to 2014. It’s worth noting that catchers, due to the roughness of the position, usually wind up with fewer career WAR than other positions, so the fact that Perez already tops the median is even more impressive. And then there’s the second player to miss based on my revised numbers, Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro, who sits at 7.4 WAR.

    24: 11.2 WAR, 42.68%
    Age 24, for whatever reason, was rather bare this year. It’s strange how some years, like 23, have such great clusters, while others just don’t. Anyway, only one player who just finished his age 24 season tops this marker, and it’s probably not who you were expecting: Elvis Andrus. While he is a good fielder, this also isn’t one of those questionable cases, as his Fangraphs value is pretty similar. It’s just easy to overlook what Andrus is and just how valuable he is. 24-year old, good glove shortstops with not awful bats don’t just grow on trees. It’s worth noting also that he’s now played five seasons in the majors. He hasn’t quite reached that next level, with his best season being only 4.3 wins despite two All Star appearances, but he has also already cleared the bar for next year, at 17.0 career wins. He’ll be an interesting one to follow.

    The runner-up for 24 is Pirates outfielder Starling Marte. He’s already reached heights that even Andrus hasn’t (5.4 WAR last year), but his late start (his wasn’t called up until late 2012) means he has a lot of catch-up to do, especially since 25 is where the Hall median really starts to jump.

    25: 16.1 WAR, 49.32%
    Again, this age is a little barren. Justin Upton (another Brave) is the lone representative, with 16.8 wins thus far. But if he doesn’t start playing like he did in 2011 (6.1 WAR) rather than the last two years (2.3, 2.6), then he’s not long for this list.

    His former teammate Paul Goldschmidt is the next closest at 10.7 WAR. However, again, this is the age where the median really starts to jump up; expecting him to make up the five and a half wins he’s behind on top of the four and a half-to-five wins it’ll be rising by each year seems like a reach right now.

    26: 20.5 WAR, 52.14%
    Another one and done, although the “one” in this case is arguable much more impressive. Reigning NL MVP and Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen has already mustered 26.8 WAR in his five seasons, so he’s already working on taking down the age-28 marker. Having an entire year’s worth of buffer is always nice.

    Austin Jackson just misses, but like Lawrie, his defensive value takes huge swings depending on which site you’re looking at. Again, that gives me pause going forward.

    Buster Posey is also worth a mention. His 17.5 WAR falls short, but he does have two things working in his favor. 1) He’s a catcher, which, as mentioned, usually have a slightly lower level to reach for Hall induction. 2) He missed most of a 2011 due to that nasty collision; give him that year back and he very likely around this mark. As is, it’ll be interesting to see if he can make up the lost time.

    27: 25.55 WAR, 56.15%
    For the first time since Jason Heyward, we have a player with a two-year buffer. Rays third baseman Evan Longoria has already managed 36.3 WAR. It’ll be interesting to see how high up his positional ranks he’ll climb. We should be in for a few more good years. It’ll be interesting to see if he can pull out an MVP, though, seeing how Trout and the age-30 leader have dominated the discussion the last few years. There really aren’t any other good age-27 candidates, with Asdrubal Cabrera in second with only 19.6 wins.

    28: 31.4 WAR, 64.91%
    We’re finally back up to a two-player year. Ryan Zimmerman leads the way, with 33.9 WAR already. He hit as well as ever last year, but hopefully he’s healthy enough next year that his fielding doesn’t suffer so much. Zimmerman has long been one of my favorite players, and I’ve written about him a lot. Unfortunately, he’s also been pretty heavily underrated as well; I’m not sure if most people would realize that’s he’s been better than the Hall median so far. If you want to start taking bets as to which players on this list will wind up Hall snubs (after all, we are only at 65%, so chances are, we’ll have at least one or two snubs along the way), he’d probably be a great pick to start with.

    Then, there’s his age-28 partner Troy Tulowitzki. The Rockies shortstop has faired better in earning recognition, but has had plenty of health issues along the way. Despite those, he’s still put up 32.3 WAR to date. Even when he’s been hurt though, he’s been good enough to keep reaching the median milestones. For example, this year, he managed 5.3 WAR despite missing 32 games.

    Again, there’s not really a near-miss here, with another injury-plagued star in Matt Kemp next (20 career WAR).

    29: 35.4 WAR, 68.52%
    The next two years are absolutely packed, although 30 a little more than 29. Either way, Dustin Pedroia leads the age group with 38.1 WAR. I’m not sure how often I’ve seen Pedroia talked about as a future Hall of Famer, despite playing in a huge market and two World Series titles. David Ortiz seem to have gotten most of the Hall chatter from the last one. My theory is that you need to be 30 to get the “Future Hall of Famer” tag, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

    Next on the list is Ryan Braun, with 35.4 WAR. Yes, even with his suspension, he still makes the cutoff. Based on the current Hall electorate’s stances, though, good luck to him.

    Joey Votto was the final star who fell below the cutoff, as his 33.9 WAR just barely topped the original 33.3 mark. However, he’d need just five and a half wins to get back on track, a mark that he’s topped each of the last four years (even missing 51 games in 2012). Also just missing is Hanley Ramirez, at 32.8 Wins. That six and a half wins is a lot to make up, but he has done it before, and he did put up 5.4 WAR in only 86 games last year. If he can keep that up, then he’s well on his way, but who knows with the up-and-down career Hanley has had.

    30: 39.4 WAR, 69.16%
    If age 29 looked stacked, just look at this one. Leading the way is Miguel Cabrera at 54.7 WAR. Cabrera is the reason I think people won’t call players “Future Hall of Famers” until the age of 30. I don’t think I saw anyone calling him a future Hall of Famer two years ago, despite over 40 Wins, 277 home runs, and five MVP top-5 finishes by the age of 28. Back then (well, three years ago, so close), I was already pretty bullish on his chances, saying he wasn’t yet at his prime and that he looked to clear the Hall borderline easily (I’m linking to this in part to brag about my prediction as well). I mean, obviously the past two seasons will obviously be a big part of his eventual case, but he was already well on the way to election before them. And even then, I don’t really recall anyone discussing him like a Hall of Famer after his first MVP season (despite it being a Triple Crown season and all). For whatever reason, most people just held off on looking at his chances until he already matched the bottom rung of Hall of Fame first basemen. I guess it makes some sense, but at the same time, is it so hard to look at a guy with 40 WAR at the age of 28 coming off of a 7+ win season and say he’s probably going to be a Hall of Famer? I mean, I think the only way he doesn’t end up with Hall numbers at that point is if he suffers some Tony Conigliaro-esque injury, which I don’t think anyone would blame you for not predicting. Anyway, enough of that.

    David Wright is next on the list, and with 46.7 WAR, he’s also cleared his next checkpoint. It’ll be interesting to see how he fares with voters. I know he plays in New York, has the Captain America nickname and all that, but I still feel like he’s underrated. For example, he’s only reached fourth place in MVP voting, with only three other top-10 finishes. Compare that with the track record Cabrera had through the age of 28. I mean, I think people realize that he’s good, but they generally aren’t aware of just how consistently great he has been.

    After him is newly-minted 200 Million Dollar Man Robinson Cano with 45.1 WAR. If anyone has lost out in the Mike Trout-Miguel Cabrera wars of the past two years, it’s been him. You could have easily argued each year that he was the third best player in the league, maybe even second depending on how you rated Miguel Cabrera’s defense. However, he was more or less lost in the shouting match each time.

    Then there’s another catcher on the list in Joe Mauer (44.3 WAR). It’s sad to hear he’ll be moving away from the backstop this season, but if it means more time watching him play, I suppose it’s worth it. On an unrelated note, he’s a player I would already feel comfortable calling a Future Hall of Famer given the standards for catchers, but nobody else seems to think so, based on what I’ve seen.

    The next few aren’t particularly close, but they’re worth mention. Jose Reyes (33.2) is kind of far off, but he is sitting at 1600 hits already. Then there’s Yadier Molina (26.8) and Russell Martin (24.6), who are really far off. However, they’re both not only catchers, but really good defensive catchers. It will be interesting to see what the recent data on pitch framing does for their candidacies when they come, or if that data will even be part of the discussion by then.

    31: 43.9 WAR, 75.51%
    No one makes it. These next two years are absolutely dry, especially after the last two. Carl Crawford is closest at 37.6 Wins. Like Reyes, he may force his way into the conversation by making 3000 hits (he’s at 1765). If either of those happen, it’ll be interesting. Craig Biggio was much better than either has been to date, and he’s been struggling with recognition. On the flip side, you have Lou Brock gliding in despite a .293/.343/.410 line back on his first ballot...

    32: 48.4 WAR, 77.08%
    Again, nobody makes it. Curtis Granderson (35.1) probably won’t even make things interesting. It’s kind of a shame, as this would have been an interesting testing ground for my “Future Hall of Famer” theory.

    33: 50.8 WAR, 76.29%
    Albert Pujols has 92.9 WAR, even as he’s slowed down the last two seasons. This is why I look into these things, people: to bring to you controversial ideas like “Albert Pujols will probably make the Hall of Fame”.

    Mark Teixeira is a near miss at 47.6. Given how he’s sort of derailed, I don’t really expect him to make any subsequent cutoffs; a near-six win season now just doesn’t look feasible.

    34: 53.4 WAR, 77.08%
    Adrian Beltre leads here with 70.7 WAR. It’s weird to think that he’s actually older than Pujols. And depending on whether he reaches the 3000 hit or 400 home run milestones, he’ll make for an interesting test case as to whether the Hall voters can appreciate defense, especially at non-up the middle positions.

    Chase Utley is probably the other most likely snub candidate, thanks to his late debut and frequent injuries suppressing his career totals. Despite that, it still hasn’t hurt his value too much, as he sits at 58.1 WAR. The man has been criminally overlooked. For example, per Fangraphs at least, he’s been the second most valuable player of the last decade, behind only Albert. And yet, he’s topped out in MVP voting at seventh place, with two more eighth place finishes and then nothing else in the top ten. I’ve seen some people even predict that he won’t get the most Hall of Fame votes from his own infield-Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard have somehow gotten more praise. The line for future Lou Whitaker more or less starts behind him.

    Speaking of Rollins, he’s the closest miss, although he only sits at 42.0 Wins.

    35: 55.9 WAR, 77.89%
    The study ends with a whimper, as no one active is even close to this. Eric Chavez has 36.8 Wins, and then nothing.

    As a summary, a full list of every essentially “on-track” for the Hall: Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Mike Trout, Yasiel Puig, Jason Heyward, Giancarlo Stanton, Brett Lawrie, Andrelton Simmons, Freddie Freeman, Salvador Perez, Elvis Andrus, Justin Upton, Andrew McCutchen, Evan Longoria, Ryan Zimmerman, Troy Tulowitzki, Dustin Pedroia, Ryan Braun, Miguel Cabrera, David Wright, Robinson Cano, Joe Mauer, Albert Pujols, Adrian Beltre, and Chase Utley. Whew.

    Now, close to two-fifths of these 25 players probably won’t make the Hall (just based on the historic average, which is ~57%). Being past the Hall median at a certain age is no guarantee of holding up (for example, Don Mattingly is one of the ones on the ballot for the first few years, but he eventually gives way to Mike Piazza). Heck, being above the Hall Median period doesn’t guarantee induction. On the flip side, half of the guys in the Hall didn’t hit these marks. I probably missed a few prospects and the like on the younger end, but I’d like to think that, given the fact that I looked at near misses as well, I’ve probably just highlighted a vast majority of the 2025 to 2050 Hall classes. Or at least, the offensive half of them. Hopefully, soon, I’ll get a similar look at the pitching side of things.


    1. One of the best baseball articles I have read in a long time. Thanks for all that solid info.