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    Thursday, March 31, 2022

    Predicting Today's Future Hall of Fame Pitchers, 2022 Edition

    I would like to begin by noting something big that I completely missed in this year’s article on Future Hall of Fame Hitters: this is my tenth year doing this series! That’s pretty neat!

    For those who haven’t read one of these before, a quick overview of the process (before I discuss a trend I noticed in the results). Basically, what I’m doing is finding the median Wins Above Replacement (Baseball-Reference edition) for Hall of Fame starting pitchers by age. So I start by looking at every eventual starter in Cooperstown at 20 arranged by total WAR at that age, pick the midpoint, then look at them all at age 21 and pick the midpoint, and so on, all the way into their 40s. Once I have that trend line, I go and look at how many eligible non-Hall of Famers topped those median marks and didn’t eventually go into Cooperstown (I exclude players still on the BBWAA ballot, since their fates are more up in the air).

    Once I have those numbers, I go age-by-age and determine what percent of players over the median WAR at each age go on to the Hall of Fame. So, if there are 20 Hall starters at age 20, and the exact midpoint in their value is 2.0 WAR, that’s our median point. And say that there are 90 pitchers in history who had 2.0 WAR by age 20 and didn’t make it to the Hall. We’d have 10 Hall of Famers out of 100 total 2.0-WAR 20 year olds, so our odds for 20-year-old pitchers over the Hall median for that age going on to Cooperstown is 10%. Also, for the sake of comparing to mostly modern starting pitchers, my searches here are limited to Live-ball era pitchers* (so those that debuted after 1920) who have started in 10% of their appearances.

    *Out of curiosity, I actually calculated the median including Deadball Hall of Famers, just to see if it changed things. It’s a lot closer than I thought it would be, but it’s still not great. For the median line including Deadball pitchers, the biggest difference was an even higher peak value, but trailing off a few years earlier. Interestingly, the overall career median including Deadball pitchers was actually 2.0 Wins lower than the Live-ball-only one, thanks in part to the longer careers of Live-ball Hall of Famers.

    This year’s look at the pitchers turned up some unusual results. For those who have followed from years past, you might have noticed that the list for pitchers is always a little sparser than the one for hitters. This year takes it to an extreme, however; there are only five active pitchers who fall above the Hall median for their age, and all five are in their 30s. Given that a major inspiration for this series was trying to identify young players on track for Cooperstown, this kind of stood out as an issue (don’t worry, I still covered the WAR leader for each age regardless of whether they topped their age-median, so there is still an article to read).

    It’s hard to pinpoint one reason for this dramatic drop-off. Part of it might be the shortened pandemic season, but if so, it’s a little weird that it took an extra year for that to show up, since last year’s article was relatively normal. It’s also unusual that this didn’t seem to be the case for position players, and on top of that, most of the top players by age group would have needed a really good full 2020 season to make up the gap. Maybe one of them could have made it with a Cy Young-caliber effort, but even that’s low probability.

    So there’s probably something else at play. It might be the result of more injuries to young pitchers? Or maybe the result of the different approach for younger pitchers these days, focusing on later call-ups and lighter workloads? The Median line for Hall pitchers does start early and aggressively, so a later start can affect a starter years down the line as they have to play catch-up. Given the fact that MLB players seem to be retiring earlier than they used to, would we start to see the best pitchers squeezed on both ends, or would the best of the best continue to last into their 30s? Alternatively, maybe there will be a shift in how pitchers are used as they adapt to the new state of the game, or some rule change to push back at these factors?

    Or perhaps the problem is the disappearance of the below-median Hall of Fame starter, slowly pushing the standards higher and further out of reach for all but the best young pitchers? It’s hard to see how that trend might reverse itself going forward, and if younger pitchers aren’t making it as long on top of that, the issue is only going to compound itself. Or maybe Hall voters completely upend how they evaluate starters to account for that, in which case, how useful will it be to look at past Hall of Famers as a method of prediction?

    In the end, I don’t know that I have an answer here, and my strategy for now will probably be to see if this becomes a larger trend in coming years, or if this is just a one-year aberration brought on by a confluence of rare-but-impactful events. For now, I’ll keep my current system while trying to brainstorm alternative methods to look at this question in the future.

    With all of that preamble out of the way, let’s move onto the age-by-age breakdown. Remember that players are listed based on their age in the 2021 season (so, for example, pitchers in the Age 23 group will be 24 for the upcoming year and working towards the age-24 goal):

    Monday, March 14, 2022

    Predicting Today's Future Hall of Fame Hitters, 2022 Edition

    I’m not going to lie, I thought I would have a little more time to write this. I put off starting this year’s edition of the Future Hall of Fame Series, since I sort of assumed we’d be missing large chunks of the season, and I would have to say something about having shortened seasons two out of the last three years, and then… we avoided the problem. I suppose it’s likely we’ll have a similar issue five years down the line when the brand-new CBA expires, and most of these players will still be around for that… but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

    For now, though, a quick refresher on what this series does: First, I find the approximate “Median Career by Age” for Hall of Fame players, by looking at all AL and NL* position players in Cooperstown year by year. So I line them up by Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Replacement at age 20, age 21, and so on, and just follow where the middle of the pack lands.

    *I usually omit other major leagues for simplicity’s sake, since they’re usually a little too different to the modern game in their schedule and such. But it’s an issue I sometimes try and revisit; I just haven’t come up with a good way to do it yet.

    Then, I look at how many Hall-eligible players in history have reached that median total by the same age, and see what percentage the Hall of Famers represent. So, if the midpoint for Hall of Famers at age 21 is 2.0, with 50 above the line and 50 below; and 100 total Hall-eligible players in history have reached the 2.0 WAR mark by 21, our equation would be:

    (50 Hall of Famers over 2.0) / (100 total players over 2.0) = 50% of players to reach the median by this age have gone on to be Hall of Famers

    Players are grouped by their ages last season, so the players in the Age 20 group are in the clear through age 20, and will be working on the Age 21 mark in 2022 (and so on). With all of that out of the way, we can begin our breakdown:

    Tuesday, March 1, 2022

    Killing Time in the Lock-Out: Looking at Extreme Hypothetical Hall of Fame Candidacies

    There’s not a lot of on-the-field baseball news going on, so why not play around with a weird hypothetical that’s centered around the Hall of Fame. Today’s question was one I saw a while ago while browsing /r/baseball over on Reddit: would a player who managed to repeat Joe Carter’s 1990 season 25 times be worthy of the Hall of Fame?

    For background, 1990 was Joe Carter’s lone season in San Diego before he was traded (with Roberto Alomar) to the Blue Jays for Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff, en route to Toronto’s back-to-back World Series titles (including Carter’s 1993 Series walk-off homer). With the Padres, Carter had a weird season, picking up a few MVP votes thanks to 24 homers, 22 stolen bases, 27 doubles, and 115 RBI while playing in all 162 games. However, what actually made the season unsual is that, by most other regards… he was actually pretty bad. Baseball-Reference credits him with -1.7 WAR, while Fangraphs goes even further, saying it was a -2.0-Win season.

    So this hypothetical player would have 3675 hits, 600 home runs, 550 steals, 2875 RBI (nearly 600 more than Hank Aaron’s record), and regular MVP votes... while also costing his teams somewhere between 40 and 50 Wins over his career. Would that be worthy of induction into Cooperstown?

    It’s probably worth breaking down how that season worked, though, because it will matter down the line. A big part of the issue was Carter’s defense; both versions of WAR say he cost his team somewhere around 3 wins just through his defense. And while that’s probably a little extreme, in the way that old defensive stats can be uncertain, it’s also not unthinkable; it was the end of a three-year experiment trying Carter in center field, after largely being a defensive positive in the corner outfield. However, he never really took to the move, and posted negatives numbers in center (to varying degrees) in all three seasons before Toronto eventually returned him to right field.

    In a world where his defense looks more like the two previous years, he’s probably around a net-zero instead of a big negative, with bad glovework canceling out the higher defensive value of being a center fielder. And in a timeline where he gets to be an above-average right fielder, he might even be a small positive on defense (even overcoming the defensive penalty of the move).

    Of course, that’s only part of the problem, since all of that would only get him to the 0-1 range. The other part of the problem is that Carter’s offense wasn’t as good as the raw number suggested, either. His batting line in 1990 was .232/.290/.391, and while we know today that a low batting average isn’t a deal breaker like it once was, that sub-.300 on-base percentage is still going to be a tough sell. OPS+ marked Carter as 15% worse than a league-average hitter that year, while wRC+ (which is more heavily weighted to the more important OBP) has him a full 20% below league-average.

    Carter’s totals were in part due to good health (he was in the middle of three straight 162-game campaigns) and his power and speed in spite of a poor batting eye. The thing that probably got him the most attention though was those 115 RBI, numbers that would have looked even more impressive before the full explosion of the high-scoring 1990s. He finished third in the NL and fifth in the entire league with that mark. It’s also worth noting that no other player has accumulated more RBI in a season while posting an OPS+ below 90.

    And you probably already have an idea of how that happened; RBI is an incredibly team-dependent stat. Jack Clark had a .441 OBP (he didn’t have enough plate appearances to qualify for league leader status, but he was 23 points ahead of official NL leader Lenny Dykstra), Bip Roberts had a .375 mark (13th among qualified NL batters), and Tony Gwynn and Roberto Alomar had normal seasons for them (23rd and 32nd, respectively). Carter usually batted fifth or fourth, directly behind some combination of those four. According to Baseball-Reference’s splits, Carter took 361 plate appearances with runners on, tied for 99th-most dating back to 1973 (chosen just because it’s the start of B-R’s complete play-by-play data).