Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Some Quick Thoughts on Predicting Active Players' Hall of Fame Chances

Since I write a lot about future Hall of Famers, especially among active players, I wanted to expand on some comments I left on William Metzger’s article on Jose Altuve’s Hall of Fame candidacy over at The Crawfish Boxes. Generally, my stance is that we can start talking about players being future Hall of Famers well before we normally do. Metzger does a good job of looking at what Altuve has to do to have Hall-caliber stats, but how likely a player is to do that is a different question.

As a simple example, I looked at every second baseman in history who was within 10 WAR of Altuve at the same age; specifically, that means anyone between 25 and 35 WAR by the end of their age-28 season. That leaves us with a group of 22 other players; two of them are the also still-active Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia.

Of those 20 retired examples to work from, 12 went on to the Hall of Fame. Simple enough, then, right? Altuve has something like a 60% chance to stay on a Hall-pace.

But the remaining 8 players aren’t a list of players who started strong and then broke down, like you might think. One of them is Pete Rose, who has…let’s say some mitigating factors that you might be aware of, but he put up a Hall-quality back-half to his career, if nothing else.

There are a few other weird cases as well, though. For example, Larry Doyle walked away after a 3-WAR age-33 season to go manage a minor league team in Toronto closer to his home. Maybe he could have a few more good seasons if he stuck it out, but he didn’t feel like it, so we’ll never know. And then, there’s Fred Dunlap, who broke his leg on a slide during his age-32 season in 1891. However, it wasn’t the injury that ended things; it was the ensuing dispute with the team over (essentially) disability play for the injury that got him to walk away.

That’s not to say weird, unaccountable things couldn’t still spring up for Altuve. But, at the same time, we know that at least the Dunlap scenario won’t happen today, and Rose is the only gambling-related permanent ban in over seven decades. Despite the weirdness of all of those scenarios, and the low chance of them recurring, they still make up a significant portion of our Altuve comps, because there are so few players good enough to actually use as a comparison!

Then, three of the remaining five Hall-outsiders are Bobby Grich, Lou Whitaker, and Willie Randolph, all of whom had Hall-level numbers for their career but just didn’t get any electoral support. I know there are still large groups of people saying that they were snubbed, and they might still even get in via the Veterans Committee! But even if you don’t want to account for the unpredictable VC, they pretty clearly didn’t “fall apart” or anything; they held up their end of the deal and played well, the voters just didn’t see how good they were.*

*Also, there’s a question of whether Altuve can even be grouped with them anymore; he already has as many career All-Star selections as any of them, and he has as many top-ten MVP finishes as all three of them combined. If attention from fans and writers is what doomed that trio, it doesn’t seem like Altuve will be facing that issue, particularly if he plays as well as they did in their second career-halfs.

All told, that just leaves us with two stereotypical “Hall-trajectory player falls apart and plays himself out of Cooperstown” cases from the twenty players similar to Altuve, Chuck Knoblauch and Cupid Childs. There are actually more players in the “weird, unpredictable, non-injury stuff” category than there are these guys.

All of that gets me to my main point: players who are this good, this young, to the extent that someone like Altuve is, are in a class of their own. They’re more likely than not to finish out a career that gets them to Cooperstown, and even if they don’t make it to the Hall, almost all of them end up at least playing at a Hall-of-Fame-level the rest of the way. Being good but going unrecognized is about as common, or even more so, than totally falling apart. Just a thing to keep in mind when having “future Hall of Famer” discussions

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Coors Field Probably Isn't the Main Thing Hurting Larry Walker's Hall of Fame Chances


After eight years languishing on the Hall of Fame ballot, Larry Walker’s candidacy is starting to show signs of life. He topped a third of the vote last year for the first time, and the early returns this year show him nearing two-thirds of the vote for the 2019 voting cycle. For the first time since he debuted at 20.3% of the vote back in 2011, it seems possible that Walker might finally be inducted into Cooperstown.

It would certainly be a worthy induction, if he does make it. But it’s also worth wondering why he’s taken so long to build up traction with voters. I’ve seen some claiming that Walker’s time on the Rockies (and therefore, his years playing in Coors Field) might be causing some voters to ding his candidacy unfairly.

There are plenty of other things that could be causing voters to unfairly discount him, and a lot of them are things that we’ve seen play out with other Hall candidates. For instance, Walker missed a lot of time from injuries (only once did he top 150 games, and seven of his seventeen seasons saw him miss 35 games or more), which resulted in a relatively short career, something that has hurt other players on the ballot in the past (Jim Edmonds, for one). Walker also was pretty well-rounded rather than exceling in one area, something that people have identified as a problem for decades now (even early Bill James writings referenced voters overlooking players who were well-rounded, like Dwight Evans and Bobby Grich).

There’s nothing to say that it couldn’t be multiple things hurting him, but up until this year, there hasn’t really been a great way to assess Coors Field’s impact in the mind of Hall voters. No one else who spent significant time on the Rockies spent much time on the ballot, nor did they really deserve to (the only other non-Walker players to hit the ballot with more than 10 WAR in Colorado prior to this year were Vinny Castilla, Andres Galarraga, and Ellis Burks).

Not only that, but we haven’t really seen a ton of evidence that a lot baseball writers refuse to vote for Rockies in other awards; for example, the Rockies have done pretty well for themselves in MVP voting (Dante Bichette and Carlos Gonzalez both have top-three finishes, and guys like Nolan Arenado, Troy Tulowitzki, Matt Holliday*, and Todd Helton all finished in the top five/ten spots pretty regularly), which pulls from the same voting body. Maybe voters only have a problem with Coors Field when it comes to Hall of Fame voting, but it feels difficult to prove that when we really only have one data point.

*You could MAYBE argue that Holliday should have won the MVP award in 2007, when he finished second and was a little better than winner Jimmy Rollins. But you could also easily argue that neither of those two was one of the top three players in the NL that year anyway, let alone top five.

But this year, we finally got a second candidate to include in our analysis. Career-Rockie Todd Helton finally hit the Hall of Fame ballot, and he has numbers that wouldn’t look too out of place in Cooperstown, between 2519 hits, 369 home runs, 592 doubles, 61.2 WAR, and a 53.9 JAWS rating. Based on what we see in the early results, is Helton below what we might expect of a player of his resume?

Is Justin Verlander Already a Hall of Famer?

Over at The Crawfish Boxes, I once again took a look at something Hall of Fame related. This time, it's whether or not Justin Verlander has already done enough that he could get inducted right now.