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    Tuesday, March 30, 2021

    Can We Find a Milestone for Walks to Match 3000 Hits and 500 Home Runs?

    Back in my position player Future Hall of Fame entry for the year, I marveled at Joey Votto’s walk total, noting that his 1217 mark is currently 57th all-time. That led to me also wondering if there was a cutoff for walks that could serve as a common, ubiquitous milestone, in the way that 3000 hits or 500 homers have become. Today, I figured, why not follow through on that question for fun?

    As a reminder, there are currently 27 members of the 500 Home Run Club and 32 members of the 3000 Hit Club, so we’re looking for a round number of walks that somewhere around 30 players have reached. Ideally, this cutoff should also provide some sort of connotation of Hall-worthiness, so most or all of the players above this mark should either be already in Cooperstown, currently on the way, or kept out due to steroids or gambling or something.

    The big round numbers are probably the best starting place. For those who don’t know offhand, the all-time leader in walks is Barry Bonds at 2558, well ahead of runner-up Rickey Henderson’s total of 2190. A 2000 Walk Club would still be far too exclusive, though, with only Babe Ruth (2062) and Ted Williams (2021) joining Bonds and Henderson.

    A 1000 Walk Club won’t do, either; there are currently 120 players who have reached four digits, with Carlos Santana (991) set to join the bunch this season. And right now, the dividing line falls between Boog Powell (1001) and Jim Edmonds (998). It’s a solid group of players, but still way too big, and it doesn’t seem especially useful in regards to Hall voting.

    1500 walks might be a good number to use. It’s a little on the small side of what we’re looking for, though, with only 18 members. Given that we’re partly trying to match the size of the other clubs, we might want a little lower bar, but this isn’t a bad choice. And it’s hard to beat a multiple of 500. We’ll come back here in a bit.

    Thursday, March 11, 2021

    Predicting Today's Future Hall of Fame Starting Pitchers, 2020 Edition

    Last time, we took our annual look at which position players were on-pace for the Hall of Fame. Naturally, we follow that up by looking at the pitchers.

    As I mentioned last time, I decided to just carry on like normal, shortened pandemic and all. Players from other generations have faced shortened seasons for other reasons, so it’s built into the precedent we’re working with, to some degree. But it did make me wonder a little, are pitchers better suited to the missing time? Like, it’s to some degree expected that pitchers will miss a season here or there due to injury, in a way that isn’t common with position players. Right?

    But looking a bit deeper, I’m not actually sure. For example, while Tommy John surgery isn’t rare and usually wipes out a whole season, there actually aren’t that many players in the Hall who have had it; to date, it’s just John Smoltz and non-pitcher Paul Molitor (although maybe Billy Wagner or Tommy John will be added in the near future). And sure, there are a few more Hall pitchers with non-UCL injuries that took time, but on the whole, Hall pitchers are probably noticeably healthier than pitchers as a whole. It also doesn't help that the year-ending injuries are a relatively recent phenomenon, seeing an uptick since the 2000s and especially since the 2010s, meaning we are still some time away from seeing how it's handled by Hall voters. So in short, my feeling is that for now, we should assume the missed time will still matter, although we will probably need to wait to get a sense of the exact degree.

    Anyway, if you’re looking for an explanation of the general methodology of this series, the process is the same as the one I discussed at the beginning of the position players article, measuring the Wins Above Replacement totals for Hall players across ages, and then seeing how many other position players also reached that mark. The one difference is that, for the pitchers, I narrowed my scope to just starting pitchers from the liveball era on (1919-present), since pitching has varied wildly throughout baseball history and this helps keep it to just a single, more recognizable standard.

    I will also note that the standard caveats I mentioned last time hold here as well. This is only descriptive and can miss modern extenuating circumstances, like testing positive for PEDs and how that impacts voting (or, again, the modern spike in injuries). Some starters who will make the Hall, by definition, are below the Hall median, so missing these marks isn’t the end of a player’s chances. Also, my research on Cooperstown failing to fully understand modern pitchers applies here as well, and that may affect future Hall voting.

    One other major thing I want to cover before diving in is the difference between what the position player median means versus the pitcher median. This is something that I’ve covered in-depth before, but to summarize: the position player median is much more straightforward. Position players who reach the mark young tend to stay good, one that debut later needs a strong but steady run to catch up, and it’s just generally fairly predictable from early on. Pitchers are not like that; passing the median early doesn’t mean nearly as much, and pitchers with later major successes in their 30s isn’t nearly as rare. The Hall of Fame formula for pitchers, for the ones who aren’t instantly dominant from the start and always stay ahead of the median, is to just be somewhat close to the WAR median until your early thirties or so, and then just having enough strong seasons in your 30s to catch up from there.

    With all of that out of the way, let’s finally ask the question: which current starting pitchers are trending towards the Hall of Fame?

    Thursday, March 4, 2021

    Predicting Today's Future Hall of Fame Hitters, 2021 Edition

    I wasn’t sure if I should do an entry in my annual Future Hall of Fame series this year. In the wake of the shortened 2020 season, I just wasn’t sure how meaningful players’ stats (especially their Wins Above Replacement) would be.

    But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that, while the specifics differ, players in history have missed time for various reasons: from the labor stoppages of the ‘80s and ‘90s, to the players serving during wartime, to players who got later starts due to the color line barring non-white players, to the less centralized league structure from the turn of the century. Shoot, in the past versions of this series, I’ve even noted that the latest debut for a Hall of Fame position player was Jackie Robinson, or that Ichiro Suzuki debuted just a year shy of Robinson’s mark; they certainly could have been in the league and racking up counting stats much earlier than they did.

    So sure, not every generation has dealt with missed time, but it’s not uncommon. And it’s hard to tell how Hall voters will react to different reasons for missed time, but it’s probably for the best to not try and guess those things just yet, and instead just report the stats as they are.

    So with all of that disclaimer out of the way, let’s move on to the article proper. As a reminder, the process for this article is: first, I look at every Hall of Fame position player at a given age, say, where they were at 21, sorting by Baseball-Reference’s version of Wins Above Replacement. The midpoint of that gives me the median WAR; then, I look at how many players in history have had that much WAR through that age. This gives me the percentages. So, to make an example with fake data, if half of the Hall of Famers had 2.0 through age 21, and 50 of 100 players with 2.0 WAR through that age eventually made the Hall of Fame (filtering out non-eligible players and ones still on the ballot), then our percentage is that 50% of position players with 2.0 WAR through age 21 went on to make the Hall of Fame.

    This of course comes with a number of caveats. This is entirely descriptive, and won’t be able to predict things like how the voters will react to steroid users or something. This also obviously doesn’t predict whether a player will go on to deserve induction and get snubbed (a number of the false positives are in fact players I would argue should be inducted). And of course, missing these marks isn’t a death sentence for a player’s chance at Cooperstown; by definition, half of the Hall of Famers didn’t reach these totals. This is mostly just to give us an idea of younger players’ chances at reaching the Hall; after all, they don’t just suddenly appear, fully-formed, with a Hall case ready to go. It takes years to build to that, and we can watch in real time as it happens.

    Now then, we can move on to the post-2020 results! Players are listed based on their ages from the 2020 season.